Writing for Minorities

A little while back I decided to critically reread all my own fiction books – most of which were written 5 to 15 years ago – to be able to blog about the topics with a fresh perspective. Despite Soup and Bread being only just over two years old, I decided to include it, not so much to re-evaluate the contents, but the way to approach potential readers, because it deals with a very complex topic.

The ability to grasp that complexity is not age or diploma related, but depends on the personality and personal experience of the reader, and for this book that is important, because the protagonist is only eleven.

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Imagine that your child is being bullied at school – and assume you know about it, which is not often the case – and you decide to help them by buying them a children’s book that tells of a child who was bullied, but after an event in which they must stand up for themselves or join in with the action, they suddenly have lots of friends. Almost all books about bullying have that kind of plot.

But what message does such a story give your child, who has no doubt tried to be accepted already. They’ve tried to fit in and join the actions; they’ve probably tried to change their wardrobe or the way they talked or their hobbies. Maybe they’ve even changed schools already and each time they no doubt tried to stand up for themselves. What message does that story tell your child other than that they are not trying hard enough? The same scenario happens in many books (not all) that deal with eating disorders and other mental health problems.

So why buy that book? Why not buy a book that takes the side of the victim; a book that tells them that they have the right to live and be themselves, just like everybody else?

The answer is that the only stories available are those that tell of simple solutions or focus on superficial and observable traits without addressing the real causes, and so for advice books for parents.

My problem, both when writing Soup and Bread and now when trying to market it, is this: The topic is very, very complex, and the message I need to get across to exactly those young people who are struggling with these issues deals with invisible, deeply personal and abstract traits (of which actions and observable things are only the result and not the cause) that are experienced by them but cannot be observed by others. Thus, if the school librarian, the teacher, the parent or the bookshop owner do not experience the same issue, they will not make the book available to these readers; they will stick with superficial stories, based on sales figures, yet the people who can grasp it are in the minority.

So what am I to do? Do I simply change my writing to also pick one superficial trait that subliminally blames the victim, so I can make money?

Should I stop writing for minorities, because most people don’t get it?

Should black writers have stopped writing for black children? Or should other ethnic minorities not be mentioned in fiction? Should women writers have stopped writing for gender equality? Should gay writers have never portrayed homosexuals?

Most readers today will answer “no” to those questions, but will dismiss personality differences as unimportant, for the exact same reason as all other minorities were at one or another time dismissed.

So how do I get through to them?

My solution in the story is to relay these personality differences through the experiences of young people, who are not expected to understand such issues, and which makes it easier to explain them, while emphasizing that understanding them and dealing with them is not something that can be learned, but something that needs to be experienced.

Told in the first person present, which gives the story momentum, the protagonist, Vonnie, is a healthy girl, who is not herself bullied, but only a bystander. With her, the reader meets other children, all with serious problems that are in one way or another related to food or to bullying. Together the children learn to deal with their problems and to stop blaming superficial causes, while relating the abstract emotional complexities through comparisons with more concrete issues. For example, the children play with bubble blowers to explain what interpretation of abstract words or concepts is like and they compare personality traits to the hormones in injections, which cannot be seen from the outside, because the liquid looks like just water. They learn to understand personality needs by comparing them to wearing glasses; a child that does not need glasses cannot see better through the glasses made for someone else.

They also get to do a presentation at school and they use fun fair mirrors to show that the outside (looks) of a person can easily change, but not who they are inside; that the bullies may have pretty faces, but they are ugly inside, and that is what their personality is like.

In short, the book helps make the abstract and very difficult to understand, but nonetheless real and vital aspects of human nature, more palatable and in doing so, hopes to initiate a change of attitude towards those people who are different.

Would I have changed something, if I had written the book today? Only, possibly, the pacing in the first chapter, which was to set the scene and might be going a bit fast for some readers, but the story soon settles in a steady rhythm that mixes the feelings and observations of the protagonist with the actions and words of those she meets.

Although written for 11-15 year olds, the book will touch adults just the same and the characters in the story each represent different personalities, regardless of age and social position.

Available as eBook from meBooks and in paperback from The Copy Press and from my website.

Thank you for reading.

War OR Peace

Readers and writers each have their preferred genre and their own way of experiencing the world and two people with opposing personalities seldom take the same viewpoint. Consequently, readers and writers must be somewhat compatible to get a message across and to appreciate a book. Of course, the beauty of fiction is that by using different characters, the writer can represent more than one point of view.

Like in real life, so subliminal interactions between characters and interpersonal relationships tend to be very complex and multi-layered in my books, and I do not use stereotypes or ‘a bad guy’, but rather a multitude of well-intended people getting into conflict.

Like all my books, In the Real World is likely to anger or frustrate some people, especially those who tend to take their moral values from their environment, and who might not see the relationships presented or the behaviour of certain characters as appropriate. Others might accept the story, even if they do not agree with all the characters.

 

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Originally written in 2005 and first published in 2008 – second edit 2012 – the book is not meant for young readers only, despite the protagonists being 16 years old. It is written for any person above that age; any person who can think about ethical values, about parenting and about war, and it is not in any way simplistic.

Nor is it a ‘nice’ book with heroes and big win; it is not a fantasy story where the only danger comes from some evil overlord. This story is set in “the real world” and the conflicts are between people’s beliefs and the accepted norms that keep them apart. Through the eyes of the two protagonists, the reader is shown many other characters – grandparents, parents, teachers and students – of whom some agree and others disagree with these norms.

War is the main topic, but the story is not set in a time of war; it is set today, in an Australian high school. It begins during a family reunion on Anzac Day – the Australian memorial day – when a group of cousins are having a boy-girl prank ‘war’ that gets totally out of hand. It is the emotions that are evoked during that exchange that are responsible for all the actions that follow and it is those actions and emotions that reflect conflict on an international scale in the real world, and in the history lessons and family stories that relate what happens with the kids to the events of the two world wars.

Apart from that, there are complex and very real interpersonal relationships evolving between characters, some of which touch the line of what is considered decent in our western society. For example, the question of how friendly teachers and students are allowed to be with each other and whether parents should stand behind their kids or behind the school when conflict arises.

The book does not glance over those moral boundaries, but addresses them, with the characters being very aware, and, like the readers, some are more accepting of those than others. But the reader does not have to worry about In the Real World, for all interactions are between personalities and there is no implicit or explicit sex between students or between students and teachers, and no scenes that are not suitable for young adult readers. In short, showing the emotions of war in a time of peace, the issue is human nature and our ability to solve conflicts.

The book is currently on sale. The eBook is available from meBooks (both Epub and Kindle) and printed copies can be bought via The Copy Press or my website.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

The Happiness Inquisition

Before I publish a book, I usually do a Google search for the working title, to make sure mine is as original as possible. In the case of my novella, then titled The War on Parents, I came across an already existing non-fiction work with that exact title. The novella, only 20,000 words, contains a story within the story; a fairy tale one of the characters tells, and which was then called The Land of No Tears. I decided to change both the title of the novella and that of the fairy tale inside it to The Happiness Inquisition and it is according to that title that the cover illustration was designed – an image that has evoked quite different reactions over the years. But to understand the illustration and the title, one must understand the context and message of the book.

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It was 2009 when a New Zealand politician, following the example of big brother USA, decided to win herself some votes by pushing a bill that was to make smacking illegal. Before and after New Zealand, most western countries obediently did the same.

Having lived in the USA and aware of the psychological danger of such a one-sided law, I joined the protest, which included writing The Happiness Inquisition, to relate the emotional consequences of such a law to the readers and voters.

The protest, however, was predominantly led by people and groups with Christian values and within no time, those promoting the bill turned it into a science versus religion debate, while the real issue was ignored. Needless to say, apart from a few politicians, who were already against the bill, my book did not get much attention. Of all the publications and newspapers I did send a copy to, only one reviewer understood the message:

Nōnen Títi has written and published this book in light of the upcoming referendum on the “anti-smacking” law. It’s a relatively short narrative that could be read in under an hour, showing the disastrous effects of one anonymous telephone call.

It is set in a neighbourhood where everybody is afraid of the police and of each other, of being “dobbed in” and of having their children taken from them. While the story is written in third person, we see events through the eyes of several characters and each person’s perception of the incident that started the action.

This story is bleak. There is no happy ending although characters do come to realise that perceptions may have been wrong and conclusions jumped to that were not altogether correct.

If you’re against the “anti-smacking” law, this may be a book that you buy to distribute to those whose sensibilities are not so clear-cut. A terrifying and eye-opening read.
Naida Mulligen (The Southland Times)

The referendum was held, and despite efforts of those promoting the bill, most voters (many being parents) did not fall for the suggestion that the serious cases of abuse that were used as examples – like children being beaten to death and being put in the washing machine – had until then been legal. Nevertheless, the law was pushed despite this voice of the people, and, although it was recently declared a failure, it is still in effect.

As predicted, its consequences were destructive for decent parents, who now have to be afraid of the police, of neighbours, of school teachers and everybody else who’d been forced to report suspicion of parental discipline to the police, while the instigating politician fled the public scene, without taking responsibility for the countless destroyed homes, the massive increase in stress levels in parents and subsequent syndromes and insecurity in children, who today have to grow up without healthy limits – State Sanctioned Emotional Neglect.

Having recently reread the book, I still believe in its message, and I hope it will have a twofold role: to help efforts to reverse this destructive law and to help support those people who feel deserted and in emotional distress because of it to understand that it is not their fault and that they are not alone.

The only thing I might change for a second edition is the mention of the cost of a doctor’s visit, because in New Zealand a consultation for children is free of charge. However, the book was intended for all western countries, since this is not just a New Zealand problem. It is a short story with a very big message, and I hope that maybe a film maker somewhere will one day help bring it to a bigger audience.

The book is available as eBook (ePub and Kindle) from meBooks and as paperback from The Copy Press or via my own website.

Thank you for reading.

What is in a Title?

Picking the title of a book is almost as difficult as writing its blurb and it is at least as important. There is no real agreement what makes a good title. Do they have to be catchy, original, outlandish, common, full of key words or simple?

Of my fiction books, two have a title that is common. I get at least one Google alert a day for those titles and they are never about my books.

My science fiction series has titles nobody else has, because I made those words up. I get no alerts.

I have two fiction books with original titles, but no indication that those get more or less attention than the common titles.

My non-fiction series has as its series title The Music of Life. This has resulted in it being put in the music section of some book shops, although the title is a metaphor and the books are about psychological types. The last of that series is just released, but the title for it had been created (and announced in the other books) at least six years ago.

I am not sure whether I would have picked a different title if I had to choose again. Personally, I tend to feel attracted to that which is different and am more likely to pick up a book with an odd title, just to see what it is about. But the the first thing many people say is,

Homological Composition! What does that even mean?”

Indeed, what does it mean? Does it mean that people are going to turn away, scared off by the title, or attracted to it, exactly because it is different?

Since the book is about psychological types and the theory explains why people react so differently to everything concerning information, I am pretty sure that there will be both reactions to the title, depending on the type of the person reading it.

And that goes for any title.

The reason I chose it is because “homology” refers to our common evolutionary origin that is expressed in similar, yet diverse, psychological human types, and a composition is an artistic or intellectual creation. Not only is the book an intellectual creation, but humanity with all its diversity is the composition that makes intellect and artistic expression possible.

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A Right of Man and a Demand of Nature

Having recently watched two movies, Oranges and Sunshine by Jim Loach and Your Sister’s Sister by Lynn Shelton, I was reminded of the movement for equality between genders and the emancipation efforts of the second half of the 20th century.

Briefly, Oranges and Sunshine deals with the deportation of around 130000  British children (especially in the 1940s and 1950s) – taken from their mothers by government officials and church representatives and sent on ships to other Commonwealth countries to end up in children’s homes and put to work as cheap labour – believing their mothers had abandoned them or were dead, while in fact most had been considered “unfit” by the standards of the day, because they were either poor or unmarried.

Your Sister’s Sister involves a complex relationship between two sisters and one man and deals with the choice and expectation today’s people have to engage in sex with protection against pregnancy and the natural instincts that underlie motherhood.

Both movies are excellent in every sense and more than worth watching.

As with every social change, the pendulum tends to swing too far into the other direction before settling down somewhere in the middle. With regard women’s rights that has become painfully obvious in the last decades. Despite the suffragettes fighting for the right to be employed and to vote in the early nineteen hundreds, women were still expected to marry and be housewives throughout the forties and fifties and not only were children ripped from their mothers – even if most would have been adopted into ‘good’ families – if women did not conform, but the mothers may have been sent to reform homes run by the churches or outcast by their families because of the “shame”.

Although pregnancy prevention is as old as humanity, the tools to achieve it were always subject to strict moral and legal regulations for most of history and if promoted it was done in an effort  to reduce birth rates among the poor or to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. In the sixties and seventies contraception became easier accessible, so that a general atmosphere of free sexual relations emerged and with that the demands for equal rights for women. Women wanted equal pay for working outside the home and they wanted to be allowed to engage in sexual relations without being married – sex for pleasure instead of for making babies.

Less religious power and more contraceptive power was therefore celebrated by women and with the changing laws more and more women were able to return to work after having children. Slowly lifestyles changed, families became smaller, better childcare facilities sprang up and women contributed to the family income.

Today, double income families are more common than ever and the old cliché of the “macho” man who prohibits his wife from working has made place for men sharing the provision of financial security with their wives or even role reversals with men staying home while the women bring in the money. An obsession with sex in the public media has resulted in the expectation that couples have sex three or more times a week, regardless of the time of the month, because there is protection against getting pregnant.

But what is becoming more and clear to many women is that this expectation of double income and sexual emancipation may have created a loss of female power that was not recognized as such at the time – being in charge of the household and raising the family for which he had to hand over his pay check. More and more women are beginning to realize that it wasn’t women who were liberated – at least not all of them – but men, who can now demand sex as their natural right in a relationship, while women can no longer claim their right to have children.

China may have legally and openly oppressed and hurt millions of women by forbidding them to follow their natural instinct into motherhood, but the silent suffering over not having (more than one or two) children and to stay home with them is responsible for a large amount of today’s stress, anxiety, resentment and anger among western women, which in turn may be responsible for problems such as cancer, high blood pressure and depression.

Women wanting to stay home with their children and not go to work are being frowned upon – the belief that women who stay home watch television all day, implying laziness, and that children who don’t spend most of their time in the care of schools don’t learn to socialize – aware that her husband stresses about having to bear the financial responsibility alone and that the family cannot afford the luxuries, big homes and expensive schools the neighbours all have. Very few women are willing to openly express their desire of being at-home mothers.

Don’t misunderstand me: Emancipation was a good idea, because it stopped all women from being forced into a mother role regardless of whether their personality type was suited to that.  But today the pendulum has swung the other way and, like always, the new idea has become dogma. Where previously those women who wanted to do be employed in a well-paying job and who enjoyed regular sex for the pleasure of it and did not desire permanent relationships were discriminated against, today equally as many are suffering because their natural desire for being mothers and their preference for verbal over physical intercourse is not considered acceptable; they are expected to participate in sex without getting the reward.

Emotional and social problems, like abuse, are a result of people not feeling accepted for their inner nature. There are different types of people with different needs and these needs are less dominated by gender differences than by inborn personality tendencies that result from the way people deal with information. The only way to solve the problems our culture is dealing with today is to acknowledge these natural differences and to allow people the choice; to let the pendulum settle.