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Writer, Messenger, and Professional Weirdo
Yay! Pictures! Pop Quiz! What do all these pictures have in common:
If you said:
The answer is D: All of the above, but before breaking out the pitchforks, I’d like to point out it’s the covers I’m on about, not the content of the books. Mercedes Lackey is pretty in your face about sexuality, Jim Butcher has characters from all over. Ditto for Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Pratchett (and I picked that book in particular for a reason) is pretty vocal about deconstructing racism in many of his books and he’s funny when he does it. Double win. So content is not an issue here.
What is an issue is that you can walk down the fantasy/sci-fi section in any book store and be hard pressed to find a cover that doesn’t feature that lovely Caucasian look. We default to it. Granted, you might find one or two and, as time goes on, you’ll find more and more and that is a good thing. Having a white person on the cover of a book isn’t bad. Having nothing but white people sorta is yeah – especially when other people exist in the world. Hello!
Like I said: we default to white. Especially if we are white (hi!). My leading lady, Sam? Her looks were based off of a mix of this lovely lady and this one – because I am no less susceptible to falling into the default rut than anyone else.
Then something weird and totally unintentional happened. I sat down to write the second draft. Joseph stopped being a priest and Sam’s hair got curly. A person whose intentions I’m sure were pure [sarcasm tag] pointed out that an urban fantasy novel with an obviously African American lead (that’s right: curly black hair = obvious African American) wouldn’t sell easily.
So what did I do?
Nothing, actually. It became a quirky side-story to tell and make people laugh or roll their eyes. I didn’t change her personality, her description, nada. She’s pure nut-bar pixie dream girl who will mess you up if you look at her boyfriend funny. She’s been that way since her initial makeover during that fateful November. If people wanted to see Sam as black I was totally okay with that. I couldn’t (and still can’t) think of a good reason why it would be a bad thing. Then the time came to describe her to my cover artist, because yeah, Sam’s going on the cover.
And while I realized that it didn’t matter to me what color her skin was, I could do one of two things: I could “correct” the assumption that curly black hair = dark skin, because that’s just a dumb assumption to make no matter what. Or I could jump in with both feet and go, “Yes, this creative, spacy, smartass hyperactive half angel superhero who is her boyfriend’s knight in shining armor is, in fact, a black girl.”
And if it really didn’t matter to me, then why couldn’t she be? We’ve got plenty of pretty pale girls in the genre and Sam is not herself if she isn’t standing out from the crowd. She usually does this by wearing Rainbow Brite arm warmers, mind you, but y’know: whatever.
And if having a black girl on the cover of my self-published e-book means I don’t sell a copy to someone, then gosh I …I just don’t know what I’d do! /sob
This happened unintentionally. At first, Joseph didn’t have a last name. When I actually needed to give him a last name it took me a very long time before (and writers will understand what I mean when I say this) he just sort of sat down in my head, exasperated, and said: Singh.
Well okay then.
I didn’t start out to make a statement with my characters. It sorta happened and I’m good with going with the flow. My first goal is to tell an entertaining story. If I manage that and just one person who hasn’t had much in the way of heroes to look up to finds one in Sam or Joseph (or Ben, or Gretchen, or Theo, or Simon – have I mentioned that the majority of the cast is not white?) then awesome.
I hold no illusions. This will never ever be my day job. My book isn’t going to end up in the fantasy/sci-fi aisle at your local bookstore so putting characters with darker skin on my cover isn’t going to make the slightest dent there. It makes my job more interesting because what does a white girl know about this sort of thing? How do you write a character of color?
Gosh! Turns out it’s not a whole lot different from writing a white character. You give them flaws and strengths and personality quirks, just like any other character. You make them as rounded and real as you possibly can while avoiding the landmine field that is offensive stereotypes which really isn’t that hard. And then you hope you did it right and if you didn’t, you listen to critique and then you apologize and change what needs to be changed. Chances are if you treated your characters like people you did mostly okay. At least, I hope so.
I also trust that if I hit on something offensive by accident, my friends would graciously beat the ever loving snot out of me until the stupid went away.
Here, have a bunny:
I sincerely hope that, however you celebrate it, the holiday season was a good one for you. It was a good one for me! Mostly. I worked all of it. But then I’m easy to please and the post-holiday breakdown didn’t happen until the morning of the 26th when EVERYBODY DECIDED THAT SIX AM WAS THE PERFECT TIME TO ASSUME OFFICES ARE OPEN.
People. If the sun hasn’t come up yet and nobody is dead: go back to sleep.
Sometime in the last couple months (probably November) I took a call and ever since taking that call it’s been preying on my mind, like a brain worm. Since I’ve been scatterbrained and other things have been popping up hither and yon, I haven’t gotten a chance to write about it, but here – let me paraphrase it for you:
Me: Good Morning. This is [FUNERAL CHAPEL HOME PLACE], my name is [REDACTED because Olivia is a pen name yo] how can I help you?
Caller: Hello? Can I speak to [DIRECTOR]?
((It’s about 2am, so you know. Eyebrows.))
Me: I’m sorry, s/he is not in at the moment, may I take a message or did you need to speak to someone right away? I have [REDACTED – who was not the director she asked for] on call for emergencies.
Caller: Oh. Oh dear. No, s/he just told me to call when my family member, [REDACTED], passed away. I just wanted to give a head’s up.
((I actually do not roll my eyes at this point, because grieving family members get breaks. They just do. I hate it when they call in death calls because they never have any of the info and I feel awful asking them dozens of personal questions, but they’re upset and doing what they were told, so it’s a get out of jail free card.))
Me: Oh! Alright, well, I can certainly reach someone for you–
Caller: Oh no, please don’t bother them. We’re not ready or anything, this is just a head’s up for …well, for whoever.
Me: ((Patience padawan…)) Alright, well, what usually happens is when the facility is ready they go ahead and give us a call. We have a removal person that we can contact at that point who will come out and pick them up. If you like, I can take what information you have and get a hold of them for you?
Caller: Is that the director?
Me: No, in this case it’s a separate in-house removal person that we contact for death calls. I can certainly reach a director if you need to speak to them though. May I have your name please?
Caller: I don’t want to give that out just yet. The facility can call when they’re ready? We’re just getting ready to go up there now, so they should be ready when we get there. So …this is just a head’s up, I guess. No need to bother anyone.
((At this point, in case it’s not obvious, we’re speaking at cross purposes. I really can’t help her, and it’s sort of drilled into us that we’re to take messages all the time, hence all the “no seriously do you want me to reach someone?” questions. See, head’s up calls are messages, that will be cleared, provided I have the info.))
Me: If I take a message now I will have to page someone, so if you want to hold off and just want to have the facility call–
Caller: Wait, so you’re just an answering machine?
((Congrats random answering service drone, you’ve been upgraded to a T-1000 answering MACHINE!))
Me: I’m with their after hours service, yes.
Caller: Oh! Oh, how awful.
I wish I could make this one up, but that last line is a direct quote. And yes, if you’re reading it in a certain upper crust, prim and proper accent, you’re reading it correctly. In fact, it’s the only quote I really remember because it bothered me that much. The rest is paraphrased but essentially breaks down to someone not understanding that she actually was jumping the gun. Badly. After that, she muttered some more things and hung up on me. About an hour later we did get the call from the facility, so no business lost, I guess?
If you think I’m taking the comment the wrong way, let me assure you, from tone and context (let’s not get into the things she muttered after the awful comment), she was just mortified that she had to talk to a service. I don’t know why. I don’t pretend to understand, but when she found out I was a lowly worker drone, she just couldn’t take it.
Look, up until that point, the caller was extremely nice, if a bit scatterbrained, and also gets the “grieving family get out of jail free” card. But two things here:
1. No, what I do is not awful. What I do makes sure you got to talk to a living, breathing human (now with action punch empathy!) at two o’clock in the morning. Not a voice mail box. Not a calling tree. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Go straight to person. Sometimes people are surprised when that happens, but it’s always a pleasant surprise and you know what? I enjoy that part of my job. I’m the filter between slightly scatterbrained family members who called not really knowing what they wanted and the directors.
But you know, filters can get worn out, which is why #2 is so degrading:
2. I am not this:
And I am definitely, most assuredly, no seriously please knock it the fuck off, NOT THIS:
I am a human being. Nothing gets you put on my shitlist faster than asking if I am an answering machine. If you can’t tell the difference between a person and a machine then Skynet can’t wipe out humanity fast enough because frankly, I can’t with you anymore. I can’t even English. That’s how mad that question makes me.
Damn those birds.
So to recap: Please never assume the person you’re talking to is a cyborg, unless they introduce themselves as Siri and even then it’s probably best to err on the side of them having a fully functioning organic heart, brain, nervous system, and other assorted squishy bits. We’ll love you for it! Thanks!
See you Wednesday!
Except for the part where I didn’t. I mean, I did get older, but I didn’t turn 18. Add a decade …and some. I just, y’know, had fun with hair dye. My mother made the comment awhile back when I first bought this and stated I hadn’t done anything like that since high school. She’s wrong. The weirdest color I’ve ever dyed my hair was dark eggplant purple, no bleach, so it looked like a dark burgundy wine color. Fun, but not exactly out there, if you catch my meaning.
But my hair is the longest it’s ever been and I sort of love it, so I want to have fun with it. I promised myself that I’d do something fun with my hair once I finished the first draft of The World Outside. Once I got it into the hands of beta readers. Well, that happened. So, since I was getting older, I decided to go blue. 😀
This, I am told by society, is not what a proper adult woman in her late 20s (okay okay early 30s) does with her life.
But I will admit that this sort of thing is scary if you’ve never done it before. Oh god! I have to go to work tonight too!!1! What if I fry my hair and it all falls out!?
That isn’t what happened. To be honest I’m not sure what color it’s turned out. It’s still wet, I don’t have a hair dryer, and I spent the past hour and a half scrubbing the bathtub because blue dye is awesome like that. *falls over*
If it’s too dark I’ll probably wait for it to fade and then go nuts with the bleach.
So why go about telling you all this? Because I can and because it’s not often I do silly impulsive things like this, so enjoy your WTF while you can.
……………………..Okay so two hours later how did it turn out? Meh, not bad:
It’s exactly what I wanted, which is a dark navy blue in sunlight and black/really dark brown in indoor light. This saves me some uncomfortable questions at work. Though, I am thinking that this turning out the way I wanted means I will probably use more bleach and a brighter blue next time. We’ll see.
Happy Memorial Day! Since I’m getting 14 hours of holiday pay while you lucky ducks get your barbeques and whatnots, have a fluffy fun lil post and remember why we get to do fun things like barbeques and picnics:
My job is full of fun. Considering how often we deal with death and those left grieving, you wouldn’t think so.
But then we get the weird callers. Of course, my first instinct upon getting a weird caller is to make them feel at home by being equally weird:
After suppressing that temporary urge, I’m able to deal with the call in a professional manner but every once in awhile I’ll get one that just makes me stop and stare at the computer for several seconds while my brain blue screens.
These are very real things that very real human beings have said to me. Nope, I am not naming the business they were calling and yes, this covers more than just the ones calling funeral homes.
But first, a PSA:
“I just killed my husband/girlfriend/dad/mom/poodle you need to come pick him/her/it up.” – is a running “joke” among funeral home prank callers. I’ve gotten several variations on this over the past couple years. It wasn’t funny the first time. It will never be funny.
If you’ve ever been tempted: Don’t.
And now, onto the actual really strange stuff (hopefully funny or at least groan-worthy)! Wording has been slightly changed to protect the not-so-innocent.
“I am a certified, licensed prophet. That’s prophet with a ‘ph’.” – funeral home
“My toilet has gremlins.” – plumbing company (no, they were not joking)
“Are you a person?” – every account ever
“My dog is having the butt problem again. …They’ll know what I mean.” – veterinarian
“Do you sell formaldehyde? I want to preserve this animal embryo I found when I went hunting.” – funeral home
“Do I have to be dead before you’ll cremate me?” – funeral home
“So I used to be a stripper.” – funeral home (an elderly woman told my male co-worker this …at 2am)
“NO WAR IN DETROIT!” – funeral home that is no where near Detroit…
At least no one can say my life isn’t interesting.
Author, ranter, dad
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