Writing with Color – Representation in Writing

As a writer, I get asked about whether or not I think representation in novels is important A LOT. It’s second only to the question “Where do your ideas come from?” <– (Answer: EVERYWHERE.

As a writer, I get asked about whether or not I think representation in novels is important A LOT. It’s second only to the question “Where do your ideas come from?” <– (Answer: see the previous blog post!) To answer the first question you need only read one of my novels, all of which include POC and LGBTQ peoples in important roles. While some writers (generally white-cis-writers) may shy away from writing people from other backgrounds and cultures I think it’s of the utmost importance. Why, you ask?

Because I write to reflect the world around me, and that world is full of diversity. Even in my upcoming series, The Bonegates Series, which is set in Faerie and therefore I could literally make the world as I wanted it, I could not conceive any other way of writing. In fact, in The Bonegates Series, I took it a step further, giving unnatural hair, skin, and eye colors to certain characters because- why not? It’s fantasy!

The argument is constantly brought up that writers do not want to offend those of other cultures by portraying them incorrectly and while I see where they are coming from I believe it far more offensive to delete them entirely. A monochromatic, cis world, where everyone is able-bodied becomes unrealistic. Perhaps for historical fiction or very, very small town settings, it could work but overall, the world is full of color and writing should be too.

Now, as for portraying people incorrectly/rudely/stereotypically, there’s a really simple way to avoid this (if that is your intention). Ask someone from whatever group you’re writing about and talk to them. ASK if what you are writing is offensive. I recently had this experience with a fellow writer who uses a wheelchair. I asked her to read my work and pay special attention to how I portrayed the character in a wheelchair (Alistair from The Starseed Trilogy). She was very pleased to read and was a great help at giving me insight into how a person using a wheelchair may take one of my character’s dialogue. Don’t know anyone from the particular group you are trying to include? Find a writers group on social media and put yourself out there. I’m sure someone will be happy to help.

Another reason I believe it’s incredibly important writers write a diverse cast is because what we write trickles into other industries. If my books ever get made into a movie, I want there to be no question that certain characters look a certain way. If the cast is white-cis-washed it will not be because I didn’t do what I believe is right.

Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, I believe there need to be more characters of color/minorities because I’ve had the experience where a reader of color actually said “I don’t think any of these people are dark skinned” when I used the term “tall, dark, and handsome.” Well, actually, one was. He was even described (briefly-but I don’t believe in banging the reader over the head with such information either. That’s annoying as heck!) as such, but that did not register. I don’t blame the reader for this, I blame our culture. We’ve been white-and-cis-gender-washed for so long, that now, readers simply insert cis white man/woman in their mind even if the author explicitly wrote the character as a POC/minority/perhaps has a prosthetic limb. This tells me we need MORE diversity and we need to say it OUT LOUD, not just in our mind or imply it softly. We need to make this mainstream. To do that, more writers need to get over their fear and simply write the world as it is. Big, diverse, full of color and love for all.

Character Motivations (?) Writer Talk

Please prepare for some major writerly musings . . . 
As an author, I’ve received the feedback

Please prepare for some major writerly musings . . .

As an author, I’ve received the feedback “I’m not sure this character knows what they want”, one or two times. I’ve also given that same feedback and felt it justified giving it. However, the more I read and research the craft, the more I begin to question if that feedback is helpful. I question this for one primary reason:

How many people do you know in life, who actually, seriously, one hundred percent know what they want?

Yeah . . . I know, right? If you have an extremely self-aware group of friends and family, I’d still expect this answer to be “not a lot”. I only recently realized what I wanted to do for a career and I’d been thinking about that for . . . oh, only about half my life. And this knowing what you want thing extends to much more than just a career! There are so many other aspects of life one could question what they want. Kids? Marriage or no? Where to live? What should I eat? What sort of movement practice is best for me? Political parties? Religion?

Every time you answer or even attempt to answer, one of these questions, I swear five more spring up.

Recently when I read about younger characters (young adult genre or new adult genre) I try to cut them some slack. It’s entirely possible they have no idea what they want, and you know what? I don’t blame them! I’ve always found it ridiculous that we ask a 16-year-old to choose what he/she wants to do for the rest of their lives. Most adults don’t even know what they want in life (I’ll cut them slack too), why do teenagers need to know? Societal pressure is why so many people are searching hard for something else to fulfill them. Or spend time procrastinating on social media instead of pursuing the thing they claim to want (side hustle, a book deal, a happy family, a pre-paid trip to Bali). Maybe the character is meant to act a little sporadic (obviously there are limits because I don’t need to know everything the character does-I only have so much time for a book) and make some bad choices that don’t seem in line with their “wants” because you know what? THEY HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY WANT ANYHOW. I mean, maybe they do, however, if the story is well-crafted that will probably change anyhow around 50-60%. Plus, the addition of seemingly crazy behavior is not only realistic, but it’s likely adding conflict, which is necessary for any story.

People not knowing what they want and acting a little crazy to figure it out is a truth in life.

So, now when I read and come across a character who doesn’t seem to know what they want I think that character is simply believable. Astringent “want” is no longer needed for me to feel satisfied. As long as they figure out their real “want” eventually in the story and complete their arc I’m usually happy anyhow. For the rest, I’m just along for the ride.

 

Short Stories? Yay or nay?

What’s your take on the short story?

Hello!

I’ve been kicking around an idea for a while and am wondering what you think.

Short stories? Do you love them or hate em or could really care less? Personally, I’m not a fan UNLESS they are in a universe I love. If Deborah Harkness or Queen JK Rowling herself wrote short stories I’d be all over them. But as stand-alone works, I probably won’t even pick them up. There’s just not enough there to entice me (I like BIG, ROUNDED worlds!) and I’ve read so many that end on an ambiguous note, which is not for me. That being said, I’m thinking about writing some in my fantasy universes. Mostly they would take place in The Bonegate Series universe, but I do have a few outlined for my Starseed Universe. The vast majority of these stories would be digging into side characters I find compelling and who have an extensive story all on their own. The one hitch would be these stories would only be available to my Advanced Reader Team and The Coven, my exclusive mailing list (you can sign up for The Coven in the sidebar, if interested). A sort of “thank you” for being amazing readers.

So, what do you think? Would you be interested in receiving short stories to supplement the worlds you’ve come to know and love?

Let me know in the comments section and if you’re not already signed up, sign up for my newsletter to receive the shorts when they’re ready!

All the magic,

Ashley

Laini Taylor – “We can do more than we think.”

It was very surreal to see someone I admire so much and revere as sort of a rockstar in the fantasy industry a mere twenty-feet from me.

Hey there!

I woke up this morning bright-eyed (Well, kind, it’s allergy season so they were red. I should say bright-eyed in my mind, if that makes any sense.) and bushy-tailed and ready to start my writing day! Usually, I’m slow to wake up and huddle on my couch reading as my mind begins to work. What changed, you ask?

Only that I got to see Laini Taylor, author of the fabulous and bestselling The Daughter of Smoke and Bone series and Strange the Dreamer (among other works which I have not read) speak in person last night (really a week ago as you read this)!

It was very surreal to see someone I admire so much and revere as sort of a rockstar in the fantasy industry a mere twenty-feet from me. Laini with her bright pink hair and quick smile stuck out amidst the star-struck fans sitting in The Old Church in Portland, OR.

Listening to Laini, I realized that while we were in the same Hogwarts house (Gryffindor! In case there was any question) our processes for writing were pretty different. She claimed to spend months writing the first act of a novel, often crafting it a dozen times before moving on (she’s a discovery writer who uses very vague outlines). For me, the start of the novel is the easiest. I think because I’ve generally pre-thought things out fairly well, but it could also be that Laini’s plots are simply more complex than mine so I don’t need as many re-writes. She’s not a best-selling author for no reason, after all. While Laini may be slow to begin her novel, she’s quick to finish it, one time writing 26K in a week to sprint to the end! She says procrastination (not wanting to crash the publishing machine by being late) is a huge part of this but also, she gains momentum as the story unravels. Sometimes, I feel like I could not be more different! I’m a very regimented writer and rarely procrastinate. However, near the climax of the story, I usually slow down, sometimes freeze. All that action! All that sensory input. It’s overwhelming to write and that’s the part I’ll put off if I can. You could say (and you wouldn’t be wrong) that I’m writing this blog post to do that exact thing . . .

Laini also talked about something I’ve been considering a ton lately, which is building resiliency in my writing. I’ve told many people that I simply can’t write in public. Of course, that’s really not true. If I had to, I could. It may be difficult to concentrate, and I may not get many words in, but I could do it. It’s simply a limiting belief I tell myself to protect my happy little writing bubble. Laini admitted to feeling the same. She couldn’t write in public until her child was born and she had to get out of the house. Now, she writes at home again, but there was totally a period in her life where she wrote in public because otherwise, the story wouldn’t happen. She changed her limiting belief and made shit happen. Just like when she wrote 26-freaking-K in one week. She built her resiliency (my words, not hers) and now, she can write many places. As a writer this is huge. You can work anywhere, not just your comfortable, quiet office, or the single coffee shop you love. Hearing her speak of her journey made me think I need to build my resiliency too. As a matter of fact, I think this is something most writers can work on. Resiliency is a skill that can transfer across aspects of our lives and it will only serve to make us tougher. So, what do you need to work on or confront in your craft? Now, go do it!

One last tidbit I came away with was Laini’s willingness to claim less “literary” words as her inspiration for writing. She cited Harry Potter, which is something I would claim as well, along with other authors I don’t know but I’m sure are great. In short, though her writing is gorgeous, poetic, and prosey she wasn’t a literary snob, which to be honest, I just found so refreshing. She was just herself and what inspired her inspired her.

There were many more moments of compare and contrasting myself to Laini last night (in a good way, not a ‘woe is me, I suck way’ 🙂 )but if I had to say I came away with a cohesive message, it would be this.

We can do more than we think. 

All those hard things about writing? Writing the first act to get it done perfectly. Writing in public. Sharing our work. Telling others what really sets us on fire and not what they want to hear. They can all be done. Usually, it’s simply a matter of changing your mindset, building your resiliency, and being willing to be yourself.

And now that I’ve gotten all that out, I’m off to write this climax scene I’ve been putting off! Happy writing!

Hawk Witch, The Bonegates Series and update on Rising of Three!

Imagine this: The Throne of Glass series but set in Faerie, with a VERY different, witchy protagonist, Lana Shea and her hawk familiar, Naela. I say very different because Lana is not only a loner, but she’s an illuminator, a rare type of light witch and not a very good one at that! Here’s hoping she grows into her power, because Faerie sure has a lot riding on her talents. 😉

Hello!

Today, I’m introducing my newest series, The Bonegates Series! It’s a secret The Coven (my exclusive mailing list) has known about for some time but now I’m ready to spread the news far and wide!

Imagine this: The Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas but set in Faerie, with a VERY different, witchy protagonist, Lana Shea and her hawk familiar, Naela. I say very different because Lana is not only a loner, but she’s an illuminator, a rare type of light witch capable of using the entire electromagnetic spectrum. At least in theory. Lana’s not quite there yet. Here’s hoping she grows into her power, because Faerie sure has a lot riding on her talents. 😉

And if that isn’t enough to entice you, here’s the full blurb for the first book in series, Hawk Witch.

Soar, Surrender, or Die. 

Lana Shea is a mediocre witch, lackluster student, and loner with no direction in life. However, when a messenger delivers a scroll bearing strange clues to her father’s whereabouts, one thing becomes clear. She must search for the father she’s never known. 

 Lana races across Dublin, Ireland solving the obscure clues until finally, she is transported into a bleak kingdom in Faerie. A kingdom her father rules.

 When asked to participate in Faerie’s violent royal tournament known as the Successional, Lana accepts, as do thirteen of her new siblings. To earn her father’s attention, she must win.

 Under the tutelage of her handsome guard Garret, Lana learns Faerie is darker than she ever imagined and as a competitor, there is more than just her father’s love at stake. 

 Can she master her magic in time to survive? Is Lana willing to spill the blood of her newfound siblings to find her purpose?

 

Sounds sweet, right!? Well, I think so, and hope you do too! Now, for a quick update on Rising of Three, Book Three in The Starseed Trilogy. I’m currently frantically editing it to get it to my editor by next month and am hoping for an August release! That’s right, only a couple months away! Between then and now, make sure you’re up to speed on the series and I’ll let you know when Rising of Three has it’s own page on Goodreads so you can add it to your TBR list! I’ll also be sharing the covers for Rising of Three and Hawk Witch very soon so stay tuned my witchy peeps.

As always, if you are interested in becoming a member of my Street Team let me know! Members of the Street Team read and review my books before they are even available to the public. We even have a private Facebook group full of wonderful fantasy readers to chat with. Let me know if you want in!

That’s it for now!

All the magic,

Ashley

Rising of Three Excerpt

Hey all!

I have great news! Rising of Three, Book Three in The Starseed Trilogy is officially off to beta readers which means a July release is in the works! Can you say BEACH READ (I know that feels impossible right now, but summer is coming-said in Game of Thrones voice)! That being said, I wanted to share a bit of the book with you here. 🙂 A teensy teaser if you will. So without further adieu —>

Excerpt from Rising of Three:

Sara padded softly along the creaky wood floor in an effort not to wake those still asleep. Stopping before the stone fireplace she fingered the stocking stitched with her name before extending her fingers to the wood laying in the hearth.

“Flampila,” she whispered and a bright orange ball of fire rolled from her palms to catch on the wood. Heat caressed her face. Sara sighed and pulled her fuzzy robe closer. She’d enjoy the chilly winter morning while she could, bundled up, a fire roaring at her back, with a cup of hot tea in her hands.

A toppling stack of papers on the dining table caught Sara’s eye as she rounded the corner of the hearth separating Fern Cottage’s living room from the kitchen-diner. Mary seriously came through, she thought picking up the plastic sheath encompassing The Guardian as her eyes roved over the dozens of other publications.

She spun on her heel, not ready to dig into current events and set about making a cup of cinnamon spice tea.

***

Two hours later the table was covered in papers from all around the world and Sara’s hands were black and sticky with ink.

This isn’t looking good. She chose a journal of questionable quality to skim next. An article on the second page jumped out at her and Sara stifled a laugh at the title.

Aliens Brand Woman for Spaceship Cleaner in Her Sleep

Sara’s copper eyes ran down the words, widening as she took in the subtext of the article shaming a woman brave enough to tell her story, no matter how ludicrous it may sound.

Mrs. Leslie Leeteral from Hackney claims to have received an early Christmas present. One she isn’t at all sure she wants though like all tattoos we acquire once we’ve had a few too many drinks, this one is sure to stick.

The London native claims to have had a couple gins to celebrate her husband’s Christmas bonus and gone to bed early the night of the nineteenth of December. She had big plans to finish her Christmas shopping the next day and take herself out for a solo lunch and pint while her husband watched their three children. It isn’t often you get alone time as a mum so this part of her story, at least, we understand.

Unfortunately for Mrs. Leeteral, her night of rest did not go as planned.

She awoke with a start in the wee hours to find a ghostly figure leaning over her.

“He was massive he was. And bright yellow, like the sun. I thought he actually was the sun at first. Still asleep you know. But then I saw how close he was and figured I’d be dead if the sun came in me room. Well, he saw he’d woken me and he came—he flew—closer, which had me in a right state as you can imagine. Me husband was working the night shift, and I was all alone, defenseless with the kids in the next rooms! I scrambled up as fast as I could and grabbed the lamp to fend him off. Bit stupid really. How do you fight a ghost with a lamp? Like I said I didn’t have me head on straight. He was inches from me when I realized I couldn’t see through him and I thought to meself this can’t be a ghost. When did anyone ever talk about a colored ghost? They’re always white ain’t they? He had to be an alien.”

*At this point in the interview Mrs. Leeteral looks up at the sky and shivers.*

“The alien came right up and looked at me. He had huge black eyes and a round, black mouth. At least I think that’s what they were. He stared at me for what musta been ten minutes and then . . . He touched me.”

*Mrs. Leeteral pulls up her shirt sleeves to reveal cut deltoids and a small, yellow tattoo that looks a bit like the moon.*

“He marked me with this! Looks like the moon doesn’t it? I suppose that’s where he musta been from. No idea why he marked me though . . . Perhaps he was looking for a good cleaner? I’ve been in the business twenty years and you never hear of cleaners on spaceships. Musta gotten tired of living in all that filth.”

And there you have it, folks. The aliens are coming and they need help cleaning up. Or perhaps Mrs. Leeteral should check her bank cards as one may contain a charge to her local tattoo parlor. Gin is a hell of a drink.

A small, nondescript photo of Mrs. Leeteral’s mark was at the bottom of the page. Sara’s chest fluttered wildly as she studied it. Shhhh, calm down. It’s a photo, she thought and her pneuma, the bit of fata soul she’d recently learned had been living inside her since birth, stilled.

It did look like the moon. And she could see the drunken tattoo as well. But Sara knew better than to believe the mark was either. If that reporter only knew how close Mrs. Leeteral was to guessing the truth they’d be peeing their pants.

“How long have you been up?”

Sara jumped in her seat and directed her hands at the door.

Evelyn held up her palms. “Sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you. But really, do you believe anyone is getting past Mom’s wards?” She quirked an eyebrow and headed for the pot of coffee Sara had taken the liberty of making for whoever was up next

Sinking down into her seat Sara let out a long exhale. Of course, I didn’t hear Evelyn. She still doesn’t weigh enough to make noise. “No, I’m sorry. I’ve been jumpy lately. Even meditation has been hard. And no, I don’t think anyone could get past Mom’s wards, but what I think isn’t always right.”

“Touché,” Evelyn filled her cup with coffee. “What’s all this?” She gestured to the pile of papers on the table.

Sara pulled a handful of newspapers closer to make room for Evelyn. “Papers. I asked Mary to drop them off a few days ago. It looks like she may have enlisted Morgane’s help too. They don’t carry all of these in the village shop. They’re so we can keep in the loop.”

“In the loop? Don’t you think we’re a little beyond what the average person knows?” Evelyn pulled out the heavy wooden chair across from Sara with a visible effort.

She’s not getting stronger as fast as Fiona hoped she would. Sara eyed her sister’s lank blonde hair, skeletal arms, and visible ribs. At least her magic has returned a little though. It’s the first step, Sara sighed. “There’s no doubt we have more information on what’s happening, but we’re clueless to what the fata are doing now that they’re on Earth.”

Evelyn scowled and looked into her cup.

“But these papers can help. Most of them are the typical drivel but read this.” Sara handed the page to Evelyn who scoffed.

“You can’t be serious. You know what this is right? Or does this kind of crap not make it onto military bases?”

Sara rolled her eyes and pushed the paper into Evelyn’s hand. “It does. Read it.”

Evelyn opened it and her sapphire eyes skipped over the page, fast at first, then slower as she took in what it meant. “Well, shit. They’ve begun claiming people as their own.” Evelyn set down the paper.

Claiming people. Sara shivered. “It appears that way. These papers are filled with all sorts of wild things. Natural disasters which I’m sure are in no way natural, an increase in missing people all over the world, wild accidents or man-made structures failing. An entire highway in L.A. cracked the other day. The fissure was ten feet wide. They’re blaming it on the San Andreas Fault line but . . .”

“It’s not that.”

“Nope. This journal had the most obvious article. And if this woman was claimed she can’t be the only one. She’s probably just the only one willing to step forward, and this journal is the only one crazy enough to print it.”

Evelyn smirked. “My dad would die if he heard you call this rag a journal. You’d no longer be ‘my level-headed, smart sister’. Too bad you’re not interested in business. He’d hire you in a second. But you’re right, none of these things are normal and that mark is definitely a fata brand. Even worse, it’s not Dimia or Noro’s which means regular fata have started claiming.” She sipped her coffee and looked around. “Where’s Lily? She’s usually up before me.”

“She was up late last night texting. One guess who.” A lopsided grin spread on Sara’s face lifting her freckle spattered cheekbones.

A low whistle ran through Evelyn’s red lips. “That girl has got it bad.”

 

End Excerpt

Hope you enjoyed that! The cover reveal will be soon, I hope within the next two weeks!

I’ll let you know when the preorder is up and remember . . . if you want to be on the Advanced Reader Team email me at ashleymcleo(at)gmail(dot)com.

Thank you! ❤

A Witchy Halloween to you!

As a fantasy author, I adore Halloween. So much so that I am one of those people that dresses up my dog and would love nothing more than to attend a fabulous costume party or gala dressed to the nines as a fairy queen or Cleopatra.

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Flicka as a pumpkin two seconds before the hat got tossed off. ❤

I suppose it makes sense, I have always had an affinity for the magical, mystical, and unexplainable.That I started writing about witches and other supernatural creatures was a natural progression. However, these last few years my interest in the holiday has shifted a bit. I’ve gotten more into the academic history of Halloween and how it has evolved over hundreds of years. Curious about that too? Read on. 🙂

 

I suppose it makes sense, I have always had an affinity for the magical, mystical, and unexplainable.That I started writing about witches and other supernatural creatures was a natural progression. However, these last few years my interest in the holiday has shifted a bit. I’ve gotten more into the academic history of Halloween and how it has evolved over hundreds of years. Curious about that too? Read on. 🙂

Halloween, traditionally called Samhain, an ancient harvest festival in the Celtic world, began it’s metamorphosis to what we know it as today as a night when people believed that faeries, witches, and demons roamed the earth. They set out food and drink to placate the creatures of the night. Throughout history other groups of peoples have felt that same need to honor the ‘other’ by gathering together to hold space for the dead, dancing around bonfires, carving pumpkins (or giant turnips as was often done in Ireland), playing divination games, and bobbing for apples. Much later on, people began dressing up as the very magical beings they laid out food for and began claiming the goodies for themselves, sometimes performing antics or tricks in exchange for food and drink. As you can imagine this evolved into trick or treating, which is enjoyed the world over by millions of children and adults. However, the magically inclined have always tended to think differently from the masses. Even today witches and wizards relate much more to the traditional Samhain celebration where one honors the change of the season rather than trick or treating. Modern witches sometimes consider Halloween or Samhain (depending on which vernacular they use) the ‘witches New Year’ and many still see it as a day to honor the deceased with scrying rituals or burning candles.

I’ll be real. I love witches, historically, fictionally, and presently but I am no witch. Still, I like nothing more than dressing up in my witches hat, grabbing a wand (I’m still patiently waiting to purchase my own in Diagon Alley) and hitting the town for some Halloween *FUN*! However, this year is different. I’ll be on a plane, returning from a writing research trip in England and Ireland for my next witchy series. And I’ll also be releasing my second novel! That’s right Souls of Three is officially out Halloween 2017! Because really, when you write about witches is there a better release day? It’s on pre-order now but you can also sign up for my mailing list, The Coven, and I’ll send you an email Halloween day reminding you that your favorite witchy read is available for purchase.

Thanks for reading (and as my witches would say) “Happy Samhain to ye!”

Link to order Souls of Three: http://bit.ly/2g9Hk32SOT

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