Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Guest Post - Swirl: How Being Mixed Race Informs My Writing

Jessica McDonald is a Colorado author (though she currently resides in Japan). Her first novel, Born to Be Magic, the first in the Council Witch series, is coming out soon, so she's stopping by for a visit. In addition to being a friend, she's also a fellow mixed race/part-Cherokee author, and she addresses how that informed her book.

Here's her Kickstarter Link if you want to check it out: Born to Be Magic

Swirl: How Being Mixed Race Informs My Writing
By Jessica McDonald

When I was young, I didn’t understand the concept of being mixed race. Part of my family was white, part of my family was Cherokee—it was as simple as that. I didn’t particularly grasp why I was lighter skinned than my relatives, or what it meant when I was told to say I was white. But when I was eight years old, my school held a re-enactment of the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush. The white kids played settlers. The Native kids played dead on the ground. I didn’t know where I belonged. I asked my teacher where I should go, and she asked me, “Who do you want to be?”

Loaded question for a second grader.

Fast forward some decades and that question, “Who do you want to be?” has defined my life. Because I’m white passing, I didn’t identify myself as Native for a long time. I felt like I wasn’t “Indian enough.” But my mom took me to ceremonies and sweats and taught me our history, and I didn’t feel right in the white world either. Navigating the choppy waters of racial identity proved harder than I thought. If I said I was white, I felt like I was denying an entire side of my family. If I said I was Native, I felt I had to prove it—like there was some invisible checklist to certify my Nativeness. My mother died when I was 16, and my grandparents had passed on before her; with their loss I suffered a cultural loss as well. I no longer had anyone to guide me in my search for identity. I had only stories, and a sense of belonging to two worlds and also being a fraud in both of them.

This search for identity is a central theme in my writing, and I don’t think you have to be mixed race for it to resonate with you. We’re all searching for acceptance, we’re all searching for our truth, we’re all ships sailing through a storm. In my debut novel, BORN TO BE MAGIC, the protagonist, Rachel Collins, walks this line between human and witch. She craves normality while defining herself supernaturally. It’s these contradictions, these conflicts, that inform the process of developing our identities.

Rachel is a ley witch, a rarity among her kind, and is somewhat shunned for being too dangerous. Simultaneously, she cannot set aside that which makes her different in order to be completely human. In much the same way, I could not set aside my Nativeness to be completely white, nor could I set aside my whiteness to be completely Native. I had to blend the two, to create a world of my own design, where I could stand on solid ground instead of having one foot on the platform and one foot on the train. Rachel’s story is about finding that world, about carving out a definition of self that is uniquely hers.

My experiences are neither completely Native nor completely white. I walk through the world with white skin, but I bear the weight of the tragedies that befell generations before me. I move through a modern world with ancestral knowledge. I know that I may be rejected by either of my two halves, and therein lies the most important point: The search for identity cannot begin outside the self. To reconcile those conflicts, we must turn inward. One of my favorite indigenous artists, Frank Waln, puts it best in his song “Good Way”:

“You’ve been waiting your whole life to find out who you are
These people judge your skin but still they fail to see your scars
Everything you’re looking for out there is deep inside
Your heart is like an ocean when it’s open deep and wide.”

In my novel, Rachel has to learn this lesson the hard way. She constantly rejects authority while craving its acceptance. She shuns a “normal life” but refuses to fully embrace her witch status. She wants to live in the middle of the Venn diagram of supernatural and human, and doesn’t know how to create that space for herself. It’s her journey of self-identity that serves as her central internal conflict.

Themes of identity and belonging also feature in my other works. My nonfiction essays have largely centered on the representation of indigenous peoples and the conflicts faced by mixed-race persons. While everyone goes through a self-discovery process, my experiences provide me with unique perspective. For Rachel, she encounters people who help her decide her identity for herself. For me, it was reconnecting with the indigenous communities and adoptive families that allowed me to meld my two worlds. I still have fear of being a fraud; I still have fear that I’m missing my Indian card; I still feel somewhat out of place in white spaces. But I’ve taken that inward plunge, and I’ve found a way to bring my two halves together. This allows me to take characters on the same journey, one that I hope will offer comfort and insight to those that journey with them.

Rachel Collins isn’t sure sarcasm is an actual method of self-defense, but she keeps testing the theory. On paper, she’s an agent for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, but in reality, she’s a ley witch, and as a deputy working for the High Council of Witches, it’s her job to keep the supernatural in line and protect humanity from the things they don’t know exist. It’s dangerous, and not just because a Walking Dead reject might eat her face. If she uses too much power, she could become a monster herself. 

It's all magical forensics and arresting perps for dealing with demons until Rachel’s brother disappears, kidnapped by someone sending her a very particular message. Defying the Council’s order to stay off her brother’s case, Rachel hides her witchy identity from the demon hunter Sean—which definitely has nothing to do with how hot he is—and strikes a deal to save her brother. Unfortunately, their plan risks corrupting Rachel's soul, a grievous offense in the eyes of the Council. Now she’ll have to prove she’s not hellbound—or suffer the same brand of justice she used to serve. 

About Jessica McDonald: Writer, speaker, geek. Jessica writes urban fantasy and YA, and is a purveyor of real-life magic. Powered by caffeine, ridiculousness, and charm. Proud indigenous. 

Jessica splits her time between Japan, where she is currently an English teacher, and Denver, where she spent many a year as a marketing director. She has owned her own company, designing promotional campaigns for both authors and businesses. She earned her Master’s degree from the University of Denver and holds undergraduate degrees from The Pennsylvania State University, and has worked for everything from political campaigns to game design companies. She has published original research on online user behavior, and presented to national conferences on how social media really is more than just cat videos. Her recent presentations have included using fandoms as an in-road to STEM for girls and diversity in media.

When she’s not writing or working, she spends time exploring Japan; playing with her two cats and dog; playing the cello; gaming; doing outdoorsy stuff; and avoiding adult life as much as possible. A two-time Zebulon Award winner, she is currently working on her sixth novel, a DinĂ©-inspired YA paranormal called SKY MARKED. She belongs to Pikes Peak Writers and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, as well as the crucial-to-her-success critique group, Highlands Ranch Fiction Writers.

Find her on Twitter at @coloradojess, Facebook, Instagram at @coloradojessica, her blog, or on her super geeky roleplay Tumblr. Or possibly all of those at once.

Thank you, Jessica! Your story hits close to home, especially when you talk about having a foot in each world and feeling like a fraud in both. The quote from Frank Waln is perfect. 

Jessica's book will be released soon. Looking forward to it!

What life experiences have shaped your writing? How much do you see yourself reflected in the characters and worlds you create?

May you find your Muse.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

IWSG - Publishing Path, Stats & Links

It's the first Wednesday of September, and the last summer IWSG until next year!

The IWSG, or Insecure Writer's Support Group is a monthly blog gathering created by Alex J. Cavanaugh, where we address our insecurities and support each other. Anybody can join. Just click on Alex's name and sign up! Then post on the first Wednesday of each month and hop around to visit other IWSGers.

This month's co-hosts are  Toi Thomas, T. Powell Coltrin, M.J. Fifield, and Tara Tyler! Be sure to stop by and visit them!

The optional question is: What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why?

My publishing path started with short stories. I started experimenting with them then submitting then getting published, and they completely sucked me in. Now I'm looking at trying to get a novel traditionally published.

My insecurities right now are centered on which project I should be putting the most effort into. I've done a poor job querying my novel, so no new queries out this month. There are two novels I need to finish, and since I can't decide between them, I just work on other things. Plus, I have a craft book on writing, submitting, and marketing short stories outlined, but I haven't started writing it yet.

And then there's the siren song of short stories. I sit here doubting these longer projects, so I avoid them completely, working on short stories instead. Because they make me happy.

What I need to do is choose one long-term project, buckle down, and finish it. In the meantime, I keep beating myself up about my failure to do so, and keep writing short stories. Which means I'm still working, still getting things done, but I'd like to finish these other projects, too.

Submissions for the next IWSG anthology open today!

Word count: 3500-6000

Genre: Young Adult Romance

A Masquerade can be a false show or pretense, someone pretending to be someone they aren't. It can be a ball, a fancy dress party, it can be a mask. Open to interpretation.

Submissions accepted: September 5 - November 4, 2018

How to enter: Send your polished, formatted (Double spaced, no page numbers), previously unpublished story to admin @ insecurewriterssupportgroup.com before the deadline passes. Please include your contact details, your social links, and if you are part of the Blogging, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter IWSG group.

Judging: The IWSG admins will create a shortlist of the best stories. The shortlist will then be sent to our official judges:
Elizabeth S. Craig, author
Elana Johnson, author
S.A. Larsen, author
D.L. Hammons, Write Club founder
Gwen Gardner, author
Kelly Van Sant, Red Sofa Literary Agency
Kristin Smith, author

Prizes: The winning stories will be edited and published by Freedom Fox Press next year in the IWSG anthology. Authors will receive royalties on books sold, both print and eBook. The top story will have the honor of giving the anthology its title. 

Each month I post my submissions stats to keep myself accountable. This month is a good one! After a lull in publication (I got a bunch of short stories accepted this year, but many of the releases were slated to the end of this year, starting in September), I've got stories in two anthologies releasing in September. More on that below. For now, my stats for August submissions:

Short Stories
3 stories submitted
2 rejections (one after a short listing of almost a year, which left me incredibly disgruntled and disappointed)
1 acceptance
10 submissions pending

0 new novel queries sent
1 novel query pending

Time for my good news!

I've got a short story in Flight Into Fright, an all female horror anthology. It just released yesterday! Purchase links can be found here: Fright Into Flight.

I also have a story in the upcoming The Society of Misfit Stories, Volume II. These are novellas and novelettes, so it's a big collection. Pre-order link is on Amazon, with release on September 15.

I'll also be participating in a signing later this month. Books and Brews will be a multi-author signing, with small presses selling books. This will be Thursday, September 27, 6-8 PM, at Peak to Peak Tap & Brew in Aurora. Other participating authors are Chuck Anderson, DeAnna Knippling, Stace Johnson, J.L. Forrest, Jamie Ferguson, Jim LeMay, Lou J. Berger, Mario Acevedo, Rebecca Hodgkins, Richard Friesen, and Wayne Foust.

Now it's time for some links! Bear in mind I'm not endorsing these, merely passing them along. Always do your own due diligence before submitting.

Accepting Submissions: 

Feral Cat Publishers is seeking odd short fiction for Bubble Off Plumb. 1000 to 5000 words. Pays $.03/word plus royalties. Deadline September 30.

Red Room Press is seeking horror short stories for American Psychos: A Serial Killer Anthology. 3500 to 5500 words. Pays $100. Deadline October 1.

The Last Line is seeking flash fiction and short stories. Must have the last line "I will visit again if I am ever back this way." 300 to 5000 words. Pays $20-$40. Deadline October 1.

The /tEmz/ Review is seeking fiction, poetry, and reviews. 1 to 10,000 words. Pays $20.

Grasslimb is seeking poetry, prose, reviews, and art. Up to 2500 words. Pays $5-$70, depending upon type and length of work.

Folded Word is seeking fiction, poetry, essays, and more. Pays $5.

Flash Fiction Magazine is seeking flash fiction. 300 to 1000 words. Pays $40.

Tough is seeking crime short stories. 1500 to 7500 words. Pays $25.

Craft is seeking fiction and non-fiction. Up to 7000 words. Pays up to $200.

New Reader Magazine is seeking fiction, poetry, memoir, and more. Minimum of 500 words. Pay starts at $10.

What are your insecurities? How have you done on submissions this month? Is there anything you've been needing to do, but haven't been able to? Any of these links of interest? Will you be submitting to the IWSG anthology? Anything to share?

May you find your Muse.