Why This Works

Hello, and welcome to an occasional series in which I guess, using nonscientific means, why something works. By occasional, I mean a series that I might forget about until six months down the road. And then I’ll go, “Oh yeah, I started that series. I should do another installment.”

And yes, I’ll reveal the winner of Playing for the Devil’s Fire by Phillippe Diederich also. **CoughJillWeatherholtcough.** See what I did there?🙂 (Congrats, Jill!)

phillippediedrichbyselinaroman      25330167

In a previous post, I mentioned Miraculous: Tales of LadyBug & Cat Noir, a French animated series released internationally. Okay, I didn’t mention the international release in that previous post. I’m telling you that stuff now. The concept came from Thomas Astruc, an animator aided by Jeremy Zag, the cofounder of Zagtoon, and later by Method Animation, Toei Animation, SAMG Animation, and SK Broadband, to introduce a series starring a female superhero who saves the citizens of Paris. Thomas Astruc also is the writer and director of the show. Thanks also to other financial partners like Bandai, Curlstone, and Disney, people around the world can see this show. In the States, we can see the English dubbed version on Nickelodeon.

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Ladybug is a French teen (Marinette Dupain-Cheng) with a crime fighting partner—Cat Noir (Adrien Agreste), who goes to her school in Paris. Neither knows the alter ego of the other. You’d think identification would be obvious, since Ladybug has the same hairstyle and easily identifiable eyes the color of bluebells as Marinette. And Adrien’s artfully styled blond hair is the same, though his eyes are somewhat changed due to his mask. Sigh. It’s the same principle as superheroes like Superman, where a pair of glasses is all that stands between someone identifying him as Clark Kent. You have to suspend disbelief so hard, you almost get whiplash.

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I’ve seen about fifteen episodes of the show. And I can tell you that in every episode, the same scenario plays out. Someone gets his or her feelings hurt. A villain named Hawk Moth (below) releases an evil butterfly (yep—an evil butterfly) called an akuma to “evilize” the hurt individual. This action completely subjugates that person’s will to Hawk Moth’s control and turns him or her into a villain. What does Hawk Moth want? The tiny creatures called kwami who live in the Miraculous jewelry that empower Marinette and Adrien for a limited amount of time. He also wants total power. So he uses innocent people to wreak havoc. But Ladybug has a special ability to “de-evilize” the person under Hawk Moth’s control. (Next time you do something wrong, you might use the akuma as an excuse. I plan to.)

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Some of the scenes are very repetitive. In every episode you see the same Ladybug/Cat Noir transformation scenes, hear the same dialogue (“Tikki, spots on!”/“Plagg, claws out!”), and see the same scene where Ladybug de-evilizes someone. Also, the characters do not break new ground in general. Marinette is the clumsy teen who longs for hot-guy Adrien. How many times have we seen the clumsy girl in a story? Dozens. A rich diva at school picks on everyone (except Adrien) and has a sycophant friend. Sounds like the storyline of Mean Girls.

So why are the people who watch this show (including myself) obsessed with it? The “incredible graphic design” as Aton Soumache, the CEO of Method Animation, explained in an interview on one of the Miraculous DVDs. And this is all thanks to Thomas Astruc and Nathanaël Bronn, the art director on the show. The show has a manga look with a gorgeous Parisian backdrop. Thus, the characters are attractive and winsome, and the action sequences inventive and entertaining. For example, in each episode, Ladybug gains an object to use to foil Hawk Moth’s plan. She has to figure out how to use what she has to defeat the “evilized” person. Sometimes, the method involves a MacGyver-like bit of ingenuity.

And each episode also has a touch of romance. As I mentioned, Marinette pines over Adrien, who views her as a friend. But Cat Noir pines over Ladybug, who finds him annoying. Most of all, this is a fun show where superheroes save the day while learning something about themselves.

What I love about this production, is that people around the world have banded together to produce and distribute it. They’re committed to the cause. And that is the number one reason why this show works: it has a committed group of people behind it. Wouldn’t we all like that level of commitment behind our creations?

Ladybug and Cat Noir images from fanpop. Hawk Moth from nick.com. Author photo by Selina Roman. Book cover from Goodreads.

Check This Out: Charms of the Feykin

Return to Windemere in Charms of the Feykin!

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

To make a champion fall, one must wound their very soul.

Nyx is leading the charge to rescue Delvin and Sari, who have gone missing in the southern jungles of Windemere. Battling through the local predators, the champions are surprised when they reunite in the Feykin city of Rhundar. Instead of captives, the missing heroes have become the city’s rulers and are on the verge of starting a war with those that want to exterminate their new followers. Even with such a noble cause, Delvin and Sari have changed into brutal warlords that may kill each other and their friends long before they step onto the battlefield.

Have Delvin and Sari really changed for the worst or is there a greater threat pulling the champions’ strings?

Grab it on Amazon!

Add it to your Goodreads ‘To Read’ List!

Excerpt: Broken Bonds

Sari draws two daggers and sprints at Luke, slashing at his sabers in an attempt to cut his hands as he unsheathes his weapons. Instead, the forest tracker unclips the scabbards from his belt and spreads his arms to avoid the gypsy’s attack. The swords still sheathed, he does his best to deflect his former friend’s strikes while harmlessly smacking her in the sides. When a dagger slices his arm, Luke kicks out to knock Sari back. A hint of a grin on her face causes him to slow his attack, his foot aching as it bounces off her immovable body. Knowing he has to trick her, the half-elf runs backwards to get the gypsy to charge. Before she falls behind, the warrior lets her gradually catch up while remaining out of slashing range. Once Luke reaches the riverbank, he lunges forward and aims a swing at the sprinting woman’s knee. Forced to decide between taking a blow that would surely break bone or risk a similar injury by turning her power on while running, Sari tries to twist out of the way. She lands on her back at the forest tracker’s feet and curses when he pins her arms by jamming his sabers against her wrists.

Before Luke can tell the gypsy to stop struggling, an arm of water bursts from the river and bats him away. Phelan leaps out of the rapids and sprints at the prone warrior, his daggers lengthened by keenly edged liquid. The weapons sink into the muddy earth when their target rolls away, the ringing of drawn steel revealing that the champion is no longer restraining himself. With a flurry of stabs and slashes, the half-elf drives his new opponent back and whittles away at the watery daggers. Trying not to kill the Feykin, Luke delivers an echoing hilt punch to Phelan’s head every time the other warrior attempts a counterattack. Faced with the full speed and skill of the agile forest tracker, the outclassed hunter has various watery weapons fly out of the river. None of them hit the champion, who remains close enough to continue his barrage of muscle-rattling strikes.

Ducking to the side, Luke slashes at the other man’s exposed flank in what he hopes will be a crippling, but non-lethal, blow. The saber clangs off a patch of icy armor and a freezing tremor makes the half-elf’s arm go numb. A searing pain erupts from his lower back and he whirls around, the motion preventing Sari’s dagger from doing more than a long cut across his side. His first saber swings an inch over her head, but his second weapon leaves a gash up the middle of her chin. Enraged by the pain, the gypsy moves out of Luke’s reach and summons a massive hammer of water. She freezes the forest tracker’s feet to the ground before he can move, which allows the large weapon to connect. It repeatedly comes down on the warrior, breaking several ribs and one of his arms. Sheathing his sabers and remaining on the ground, the half-elf draws the stiletto and hurls it into Sari’s thigh. A look of shock is on her face and she stares at Luke’s battered form as if seeing such injuries for the first time.

Need to catch Legends of Windemere from the beginning? Then click on the covers below!

You can start for FREE . . .

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Or grab the $4.99 ‘3 in 1’ bundles!

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen 3D Conversion by Bestt_graphics

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen
3D Conversion by Bestt_graphics

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

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Also Available in Single eBooks:

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

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Cover art by Jason Pedersen

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Interested in a new adventure? Then grab your Kindle & dive back into the world of Windemere! Don’t forget an apple for Fizzle.

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About the Author:

Charles Yallowitz was born and raised on Long Island, NY, but he has spent most of his life wandering his own imagination in a blissful haze. Occasionally, he would return from this world for the necessities such as food, showers, and Saturday morning cartoons. One day he returned from his imagination and decided he would share his stories with the world. After his wife decided that she was tired of hearing the same stories repeatedly, she convinced him that it would make more sense to follow his dream of being a fantasy author. So, locked within the house under orders to shut up and get to work, Charles brings you Legends of Windemere. He looks forward to sharing all of his stories with you, and his wife is happy he finally has someone else to play with.

Blog: www.legendsofwindemere.com
Twitter: @cyallowitz
Facebook: Charles Yallowitz
Website: www.charleseyallowitz.com

Guest Post by Phillippe Diederich: Writing from the Heart without Flinching

Today it is my privilege to present this guest post by by Phillippe Diederich, author of Playing for the Devil’s Fire, a young adult novel published by Cinco Puntos Press. This is part of an ongoing blog tour celebrating the release of Playing for the Devil’s Fire. Stayed tuned afterward for the giveaway news.

25330167   phillippediedrichbyselinaroman

I write from the heart. I fall in love with my characters and try and help them navigate the conflicts they encounter. I do not shy away from subject matter, whether it’s poverty, drugs, war or crime because this is reality. And I have something to say about it. That’s why I write.

The U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan for more than 14 years, but we don’t experience it the way Afghans do. Imagine having attacks like 9/11 happening every day in different parts of our country, year after year after year. That’s the reality of war.

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It’s the same with crime and drugs and poverty. In Mexico, the drug war has killed more than 100 thousand people in a little more than a decade. Most of the weapons used in this so-called war come from the U.S. And the market for the drugs is the U.S. Whether we like it or not, we are complicit in this war. And yet what we see and hear in the news is statistics, glorified prison escapes, arrests, and major drug busts. We never hear about the individuals who are suffering the consequences of government policies. We never hear about the mothers and fathers and sons and daughters who fight and suffer just to survive another day.

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In my novel, Playing for the Devil’s Fire, I wanted to address the problems in Mexico, more specifically, the violence and impunity that happens every day. When I wrote the story, I had to make it as real as I could without going overboard. I did not want to place the narcos as simple bad guys, but as individuals who have families just like their victims. I also didn’t want to glorify them or the violence or create unrealistic scenarios, because I would be doing a disservice to the victims of the violence many Mexicans are living every day.

I don’t believe writers should self-censor, and I don’t think we should hold back when trying to write for teens. I think teens are much smarter than we give them credit for. We shouldn’t sanitize the stories we want to tell.

When I was in the seventh grade I read an incredibly powerful memoir by and African-American. I want to say it was Nigger by Dick Gregory, but I’m not sure. It was a shocking book that dealt with a lot of tough issues. But it showed me a world I knew nothing about. It also showed me the power of the written word. I won’t say that book changed my life, but it did open my eyes to reality in a way no other media did.

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But I must make it clear that I don’t write to shock. I don’t think Playing for the Devil’s Fire is shocking in a gratuitous way. But I do think the reality that Boli, the main character, is living through is as real as what many Mexicans are experiencing. As a matter of fact, I think the horror of the victims of the drug war are going through—especially the people on the sidelines—is much worse.

When I first set out to write Playing for the Devil’s Fire, I had been reading a lot about the drug war and what was happening in Mexico. I love Mexico. I grew up there. So I was truly heartbroken as I lay down that first draft. I wanted to put a face to the statistics. I didn’t think of my audience for the book. Instead, I left it all to Boli. He guided me. Everything I wrote, I got from him—I saw it through his eyes. I was just hitting the keys on the typewriter.

If you read the book, you will find something to like in many of the characters, even in Zopilote and Ximena and Chato and Pepino. They’re only trying to survive as best they can. People are generally good, but greed and the glorification of violence on TV and popular culture can seduce even the best people.

Everything that happens in Playing for the Devil’s Fire, especially the end, it is not easy. But life is not easy.

I can only write about the reality that I know, the one that tugs at my heart. It’s not that I want people to feel the pain I feel, or about being sentimental. I just want people to join me in condemning the horror that is taking place all around us. If this is not the task of a writer, then what is?

Phillippe Diederich was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up in Mexico City and Miami. He is the author of Sofrito and Playing for the Devil’s Fire. He lives in Florida with his wife and three teenage children and their neurotic dog, Toby. Whenever he’s not writing, Diederich is helping with homework, cooking dinner, or fixing the plumbing in the house.

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One of you will win a copy of Playing for the Devil’s Fire simply by commenting below. Winner to be announced on September 19.

Next up on the Blog Tour: Check out an excerpt, review, and guest post at Mom Read It—https://momreadit.wordpress.com on September 13.

Author photo by Selina Roman. Book covers from Goodreads. Mexico map from ezilon.com. Dick Gregory photo from Wikipedia. War quote from geckandfly.com.

Where the (Super)Girls Are

Happy Labor Day! Here in the U.S., we have the day off. Sounds ironic, huh? For more information on the holiday, click here.

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The other day, I listened to a TED Talk by a media studies scholar: Dr. Christopher Bell. Though the talk was given in 2015, it caught my attention, because I’ve discussed on the blog before an aspect of what Bell talked about. Click below for that video. Warning! It’s about fifteen minutes long.

After talking about his athletic young daughter who likes to dress up as her favorite characters, Bell said

Why is it that when my daughter dresses up . . . why is every character she dresses up as a boy? . . . [W]here is all the female superhero stuff? Where are the costumes? Where are the toys?

It’s not that Bell wanted to diss male heroes. On the contrary, his daughter had several favorites among the male heroes. Bell went on a hunt for female superhero costumes and toys, because his daughter also loved characters like Princess Leia, Black Widow from the Avengers, and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. But after searching the stores for costumes, he came up empty. He also discovered that these characters were missing in the toy aisles as well.

Guardians of the Galaxy International Character Movie Posters - Zoe Saldana as Gamora    black_widow_natalia_romanova-1920x1080

I know what you’re thinking: there are plenty of female heroes. You can also find female villains who do heroic things. After Bell’s talk, Wonder Woman appeared in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and will have her own movie next year. Harley Quinn and Katana were in Suicide Squad. Supergirl has a show, now on the CW. Jessica Jones has a show on Netflix. There also is an animated show for kids that has become a favorite of mine—Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir, which features a Parisian teen named Marinette Dupain-Cheng, who turns into a superhero called Ladybug. She works with a crime fighting partner—a dude named Cat Noir—to foil the nefarious plans of Hawk Moth, a supervillain.

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And Raven (below right) and Starfire (below left) are on Teen Titans Go.

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But, as Bell pointed out, if you look at the lineup of superhero movies in the upcoming years, only two females—Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel—will have a starring role. (If you have heard of others, please comment below.) Kinda sad, but some progress at least. And Gamora and Black Widow will costar in some movies.

As for costumes, after Bell’s talk was given, Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted and provided inspiration for costumes. Like Rey. A little girl I know plans to dress as Rey for Halloween. Online, I saw a Princess Leia costume—the iconic white dress with the bun hairdo—at Target, which also has an adorable Captain Phasma costume. (The one below is from Halloween Costumes.com.) Since Felicity Jones will star in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, perhaps her character will be popular enough to have a costume in stores.

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Also, Mattel developed a line of DC female superhero dolls (see below)—a fact also mentioned by Bell, who cautioned against only marketing these to girls. Boys too could benefit from learning about female heroes. As Bell mentioned,

It’s important that boys play with and as female superheroes just as my daughter plays with and as male superheroes.

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Interestingly, though an actress played Captain Phasma in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the costume shown above is marketed for kids, rather than girls only.

Bell’s point is not without its supporters and detractors. I mentioned in a previous post how a little boy I know was criticized for liking the color purple, because, he was told, it was a “girl” color. In his talk, Bell brought up the tragic results after a boy who loved the My Little Pony show was ridiculed for loving it.

Some people are of the mindset that it’s okay for a girl to want to emulate a male hero, but not okay for a boy to emulate a female hero. Note that I said some people, rather than all, so please don’t yell at me if this is not your viewpoint. I think it’s sad that we live in a world where a kid is bullied for any reason.

So to wrap up, I found Bell’s talk interesting. I’m working to produce the kinds of stories that a kid—male or female—will want to read, and characters with whom they can identify. Other authors are too. But I hope we get to the point where no one has to ask where the female superheroes are.

What would you say to a kid who greatly admires a show heavily marketed to the opposite gender?

Labor Day image from wallpaperspoints.com. Ladybug and Cat Noir images from fanpop.com and sidereel.com. Teen Titans Go image from the Teen Titans Go wiki. Rey costume from costumeexpress.com. DC superheroes from TechTimes.

Auditions

Ever audition for anything? If you’re a musical artist, perhaps you’ve auditioned for an orchestra, a band, a choir, or some other venue. Perhaps as a visual artist, you’ve auditioned for illustration, animation, or Web design work. Or maybe you’re an actor who regularly makes the rounds of auditions for plays, commercials, or movie gigs.

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Writers, especially freelance writers, also have to audition. Like for work-for-hire gigs. That’s what I’ve been doing a lot lately. (Querying an agent or publisher about a manuscript is another form of auditioning. Been there, done that recently, too.)

If you’re unclear about the notion of work-for-hire projects in the book publishing world (and I shouldn’t assume that everyone knows all about it), in general, this is a contract you sign for a project that nets you a one-time fee, rather than an advance on a royalty. For example, fiction, nonfiction, ghostwriting—you name it. Some work-for-hire projects (but not all, mind you) have led to others that paid an advance. This happened to me awhile ago when I co-wrote a book with a friend. (Another post on someone who auditioned for a writing project can be found here.)

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Um, this is not exactly what I mean.
But I couldn’t resist posting this picture.

Even though someone recommended me as a possible book writer or regular article contributor, and I have experience in, say, writing books for kids ages 4–8, I still had to audition by submitting a writing sample to the editor or project manager working for a publishing house or book packager. This is a very humbling process. I have much more respect now for actors, illustrators, and musicians who go through many, many auditions. Which means they might hear “no” a lot. But you have to wade through a lot of “no’s” before you get to the yeses.

After two of my latest auditions, I was told, “Submit a rewrite.” Sounds promising, right? I have a second chance to make good. Perhaps the rewrite phase can be compared to an acting “callback.” I burned the midnight oil to finish two rewrites. Which is why I didn’t post on Monday.

Preparing for other auditions (writing, querying) is the best way I know to pass the time as I wait for the results of other “callbacks.” Well, it beats my usual coping mechanism: consuming mass quantities of chocolate.

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Does taking on a work-for-hire project mean I’ve given up on the projects I’ve initiated? Nope. But it is a way to gain an income and continue doing what I enjoy doing: writing.

For what, if anything, have you auditioned?

For what, if anything, are you waiting these days?

Audition sign from smkclaven.wordpress.com. Work-for-hire sign from Pinterest. Callback sign from projectcasting.com.

Dedication

One of my neighbors has made a habit of heading to the weed-choked field next to our apartment building to sing at the top of his or her lungs. The weeds are so tall they hide him or her from view. Perhaps that is a mercy. This person is tone deaf, with a high, screechy voice that defies an immediate gender assignment. (I suspect this person is male, however. So, for the sake of avoiding him/her and he/she from now on, I’ll just go with male pronouns.)

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The weeds

The first time I heard the voice, I thought I was hearing a cat yowling.

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He is not the mystery singer.

Nope. Singing. I think he sings pop songs. Once, I recognized the words, “Baby, ooo, baby,” but nothing else, since he uses a language different from my own. (Not Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Russian, or French either.)

The other day I waited to see if the singer would leave the weeds so I could finally identify him. That attempt was doomed to failure, however. He seemed to want to remain hidden in the weeds until after I left. I wondered if even a glimpse would prove embarrassing or would scare him away. This person is as elusive as a fawn.

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As I headed inside after listening to him for a while (I tried to record his voice, but that failed too), another neighbor headed out. After stopping to listen to the singer, he shook his head, laughed, and proclaimed, “He’s terrible! . . . I can’t believe he does this every day!”

Every day. Despite having a less than melodious voice—at least according to the common opinion of others.

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Why does he do it? The obvious reason is because he loves doing it. Perhaps singing brings him joy.

These days, many of us are so conscious of the opinions of others. We edit our work, put on makeup, and even take several practice selfies before posting to Instagram to avoid the negative opinion of someone else. How many times do we offer the plain, unvarnished version of ourselves to anyone? Also, how many times are we tempted to stop doing something we love, because someone else has expressed disapproval?

The singer in the weeds does his thing day after day, despite opposition. Do you?

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Singer and sun from clipartpanda.com. Calendar from clker.com.

Wall-to-Wall People

IMG_3542Admit it. You tuned in to see who won a copy of Louise Hawes’s young adult novel, The Language of Stars. (The interview with Louise can be found here.) Well, I’ll get to that right after this.

The last five days have been wall-to-wall people days, starting on Wednesday with my weekly train ride into what’s known as the Loop in the city of Chicago. I left a crowded train station with thousands of people and blended into the well over half a million people headed to work or school.

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I pass by this sculpture every week. If you want more information about it, click here.

On Thursday, a friend and I headed into a crowded mall for a quick merchandise return, then into a crowded theater to watch Star Trek Beyond.

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The weekend featured activities that fit the full spectrum life, starting with a funeral in a crowded chapel one day, and a baby shower the next. (I ducked out of the baby shower, due to feeling under the weather.) In between those events were a dinner at a crowded restaurant with a family of friends and a lawn/garage party with another crowd of people. (Almost 200 people were invited.)

Getting back to Chicago, I realize the difference between what seems “crowded” in Chicago, versus “crowded” in New York City, or “crowded” in Shanghai, having been to all three places. Though I grew up in Chicago, I felt dwarfed by the sheer mass of people on the streets in New York and Shanghai.

But walking through the Loop each week, I can’t help noticing the diversity of the crowds. Now, I realize the word diversity gets some people’s hackles up for various reasons. Some see the outcry for diversity in literature or other media as an attempt to shoehorn people of various ethnicities into stories, as if staffing a meeting at the UN. Others see it as a challenge they can’t surmount, and resent being told what they “need” to add in their stories, particularly ethnic or gender perspectives they know next to nothing about or may not want to know anything about. Still others might want to add the perspectives of people different from them, but fear insulting those cultures by the use of careless, uninformed language. I understand the latter desire all too well, since I struggled with that issue in my WIP.

Walking in an area with wall-to-wall people helps me see what diversity looks like on a daily basis. It’s not tokenism, but rather, a natural occurrence. The crowd is what it is. But I live near a city that is a melting pot. I’ve walked the streets of other cities or towns with a very different ethnic profile—one that is homogeneous, rather than diverse.

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I can’t pretend I know “all about” the perspective of someone who is different from me—even if I have  a diverse group of friends. But I know my own perspective in a diverse world, and can address my observations. And I can keep asking questions to get to know people who are different from me.

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What are your thoughts about diversity in literature, the movies, or elsewhere? While you think of that, I’ll move on to the winner of The Language of Stars.

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The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Lyn Miller-Lachmann!

Congrats, Lyn! And thank you to all who commented!

Star Trek Beyond poster from ign.com. South Park image from nakanoasam118.wordpress.com. Photos of the My Mini MixieQ’s figures and the Calder stabile by L. Marie.