Back before COVID-19, I went to a board meeting on a Monday night for a local non-profit.
The people sitting around the table are passing around a tube of lipstick. Full disclosure: I don’t wear lipstick. Ever. The last time I wore lipstick it was for a play. And someone else put it on me.
Anyways, there’s this piece of paper inside where the lipstick would go and it has the nonprofit’s helpline number and info on it.
The point is that a guy wouldn’t see it hidden in the lipstick, wouldn’t think to look for this kind of info in a woman’s lipstick if he were ransacking her things.
He might not be able to even get the lipstick open, they explained.
I’m not sure that’s terribly accurate in these times, but that was the point. The point was that a woman in danger would know what to do with that lipstick tube and a man wouldn’t.
So the faux lipstick gets to me and I can’t get the paper out. I turn it upside down. I stick in my finger and try to pull it out. Nothing works. Then I realize everyone is staring at me. The woman next to me takes it: Here, Carrie let me try.
She then twists the bottom, which is what you are supposed to do with lip stick!!!!!
I make this total OMG face and then cover my eyes.
She gets all apologetic and hands me the lipstick: Here.
Me: Thank you.
People continue to laugh.
Then finally the one man in the room goes: I wouldn’t have known to do that either.
Me: Yes, but I’m a woman.
You can tell I’m more of a lip gloss girl.
But also, the point is that gender roles don’t always apply. And that’s okay. It’s okay if you’re a man who can figure out how to work a lipstick tube and that I’m a woman who can’t.
We make assumptions about people according to our demographics (race, religion, age, gender, sexuality, height, bodies, you name it) all the time.
But those assumptions aren’t always going to be right and they shouldn’t be. Our ability to comply (or not) to assumptions and culturally imposed norms doesn’t make us any more or less of who we are–cool human beings. That’s part of the beauty of difference and diversity and individualism.
I hope you find a lot of beauty today in these horrific times.
I hope you get to be the person you are.
LET’S HANG OUT!
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As you know I have a big problem with stereotypes.
This isn’t just about stereotypes about gender or race or ability or sexual orientation or religion or class or age or ability or neurodiversion.
Yeah. Those are the hot button ones . . . the big ones that are easy to see and easy to describe.
But the ones that are bothering me right this exact second are the stereotypes people make about professions, particularly politicians.
Yes. A lot of politicians are greedy. Yes. A lot of politicians are horn dogs. Yes. A lot of politicians have teeth that are just too shiny.
But not all of them do.
And to say that all of them do is a stereotype, just like saying all lawyers are wealthy (Assistant DAs in our county are NOT wealthy) or that all doctors are brilliant or that all nurses are good, kind souls.
It’s a stereotype. It’s a generalization.
This past weekend one of my favorite politicians Andrew Yang teared up a little bit after hearing a woman tell the story of how her four-year-old baby girl was accidentally shot and her baby’s twin brother witnessed it. It was at a town hall about gun violence. It was and is a devastating story. The woman (Stephanie) was asking about what Yang would do about unintentional shootings by kids.
After he hugged her, Andrew said that he was emotional because he was imagining that happening to his children. Andrew teared up because he had empathy.
Empathy is not weakness.
Empathy is being human at its best.
Feeling for other people doesn’t make you weak.
Feeling for other people motivates you into action, creates policies and pushes change.
“A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”
You can’t connect if you don’t feel. You can’t lead without compassion or empathy or else your leadership is tyranny, inauthentic and more about you than your country.
At that meeting Andrew Yang answered Stefanie’s question saying, “If we can convince Americans that personalized guns are a good idea then again, if the child gets ahold of the gun then they can’t do anything with it, then it just becomes a very heavy, expensive prop.”
Yang also said, “If you say (to parents), ‘Hey we’ll upgrade your guns for free? ‘ When we can do that, like you can upgrade the guns for free … that would help make kids safer in our homes.”
How would parents say no to that, he wondered?
But his plan isn’t getting the attention. His tears are. Yang’s humanity breaks our ideas of what politicians should be. Politicians have become ‘other,’ unlike the rest of us. They don’t have emotions, right? They are the automatons that Yang is actually warning about – only he warns about automation in relation to the economy rather than warning us about becoming them, emotionless, ruthless, reading their cue cards and teleprompter and giving pat, conditioned responses.
Back in 1972, Edmund Muskie allegedly cried on the steps of the Manchester Union Leader (a newspaper) during a snow storm in New Hampshire while he was running for president. Muskie said he wasn’t crying and that it was melting snowflake on his face. The news said he cried.
My mom was there that day. She said she cried watching him outside the newspaper as he gave his speech.
Muskie was a frontrunner against Richard Nixon. The paper had slurred his wife as someone who liked her booze a bit too much. It also said she told too many jokes. Scandalous, I know. The paper also printed a piece planted by the Nixon administration that said that Muskie said an ethnic slur against French Canadians.
Whether or not Muskie cried for real while defending himself and his wife didn’t matter. The press latched hold again. Tears are not presidential, they said.
In 2008, when I ran for office the second time – the time I lost – the other party said that I was a lovely person but I felt too much and I cried too easily.
How could someone who cared so much be tough enough to battle for her constituents?
Let me tell you a secret: It’s those of us who care too much who battle the hardest.
Back to Stereotypes
Yes, I once ran for office. Twice actually. I won once. I lost once. I’ve never done it again, but that made me officially a politician. So if you put up a post that says all politicians are greedy or selfish or have shiny teeth you are making a generalization that includes me.
The media likes to perpetuate this image. We hear the stories of the bad — the sex scandals, the corruption, the swamp, the money and favors from lobbyists. We don’t hear the stories of the good — the senator who goes out of her way to read to kids every Friday (no photo ops involved) or the ones who lose friends because they fight so hard for something they believe in.
So please stop generalizing about entire groups of people even politicians.
In Maine there are politicians in the state house who are barely scraping by, who earn $18,000 a year, who are serving because they are trying to make a difference and there are politicians who have millions, family legacies and very shiny teeth.
They aren’t the same.
There are politicians who had dads who were truck drivers and politicians who had moms who were insurance CEOs. There are politicians who want to shove all special-ed kids in one school and politicians who find that morally reprehensible.
They are politicians who are the daughters and sons of immigrants and those whose families have been here for centuries. There are politicians who are veterans, nurses, poets. There are politicians whose parents stood in the food line for cheese. There are politicians who have never spent the night in the woods. There are politicians who are gay, straight, female, male, asexual, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, atheist, agnostic.
They aren’t the same.
There are politicians who struggle hard to help. There are politicians who struggle hard to make a little extra cash on the side.
They aren’t the same.
But here’s the other thing. Should it really be news that a presidential candidate has emotions? Shouldn’t we care about policies and ideas and skill-sets?
Shouldn’t we want our leaders to be human? Strong enough to have empathy? Strong enough to think beyond themselves?
A tiny moment of connection from a presidential candidate should be the norm. It should be the norm for all of us.
It’s with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed!
You can order this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?
You can get exclusive content, early podcasts, videos, art and listen (or read) never-to-be-officially published writings of Carrie on her Patreon. Levels go from $1 to $100 (That one includes writing coaching and editing for you wealthy peeps).
A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you.
Share this if you want and also because it would be super nice of you!
I’m staying at a campground in Maine and the people in the campsite next to me aren’t super talkative, but when they do talk, their voices are loud. So loud. The woman is from Chicago. The man is from Arksansas. They are young, married and living in this tent hooked up to a home-built sleeping trailer.
They are not into Maine.
I try not to hold that against them because you can’t really hold people accountable for their lack of taste, right? Although, the way the internet rages about pumpkin-spice-flavored anything, maybe you can?
For the record: I don’t like pumpkin spice, but I am totally cool with it if you do.
But yesterday the guy yelled, “Winters here are miserable and tough.”
And I whispered, “And beautiful. So beautiful.”
He doesn’t know that because he’s never experienced it, obviously. I think there’s a lot of value in actually experiencing things for yourself. The chance to throw yourself into a situation, to adapt, to feel the weather, talk to the people, live the lifestyle, not in a disdainful way like this Southern camping guy, but in a real way where you share experiences? That’s cool.
I can imagine them going on to their next stop and saying, “Maine. The winters are miserable and tough there” like they’ve lived it.
They might even believe it’s truth. But if it is, it’s only a piece of truth. It’s not the truth that talks about the coziness that happens in our communities when tourists leave. It’s not the truth that talks about the breath-taking blue of the sky, the quiet of the tall spruce and pines when blanketed by snow, or the magic that happens when a great meadow turns into a natural skating rink.
They don’t know it. There are so many things we don’t know, that we don’t get to experience. So many truths that we only get to be the tiniest part of. There are secrets behind our perceptions and those secrets that hang out behind the stereotypes and facades? That’s where the magic happens over and over again.
That’s true when it comes to people, to politics, and even to places.
A horrible thing happened to a dog in our county this past week and people have been going wild with anger, pain, outrage. They’ve made threats. They talk about ‘island justice’ taking care of these two men for the alleged things that they did to their friend’s dog, kidnapping it, torturing it, killing it.
And suddenly all you see around here is everyone darker urges, the desire for retribution and justice, the need for an eye-for-an-eye. Some people that I love are posting things like that and I know me writing this is probably going to tweak them. And in this world where moods cascade into violence, that’s scary to me. I know it’s almost all talk, but that talk is coming from hearts. And the thing is? It’s honest and it’s real.
But the other thing is that what happened to that poor dog? It happens to women, to children, to men every day in this world. Every damn day. But it’s usually quiet. It’s usually insidious. Or we don’t notice. We don’t notice the pain.
We need to notice the pain.
But not only the pain. We need to notice the beauty too. We need to know that we can’t declare the winters in a state “miserable and tough” if we’ve never actually experienced them. We need to remember that our truths aren’t everyone’s and our reactions to the same incident or atrocity doesn’t have to always be the same. It can’t be. Because we aren’t all the same. There is strength in that and beauty there, too.
I’m going to be hanging out at the Augusta Civic Center (Maine) on Saturday, Sept. 8 as part of a Maine Literacy event. It’s open to the public and cool. It’s from 10-2.
ENHANCED PAPERBACK RELEASE!
Carrie Jones, the New York Times bestselling author of Flying, presents another science fiction adventure of cheerleader-turned-alien-hunter Mana in Enhanced.
Seventeen-year-old Mana has found and rescued her mother, but her work isn’t done yet. Her mother may be out of alien hands, but she’s in a coma, unable to tell anyone what she knows.
Mana is ready to take action. The only problem? Nobody will let her. Lyle, her best friend and almost-boyfriend (for a minute there, anyway), seems to want nothing to do with hunting aliens, despite his love of Doctor Who. Bestie Seppie is so desperate to stay out of it, she’s actually leaving town. And her mom’s hot but arrogant alien-hunting partner, China, is ignoring Mana’s texts, cutting her out of the mission entirely.
They all know the alien threat won’t stay quiet for long. It’s up to Mana to fight her way back in.
“Witty dialogue and flawless action.”—VOYA “YA readers, you’re in for a treat this week. Hilarious and action-packed, this novel is sure to be the perfect summer read.”—Bookish
“Funny and playful, with a diverse cast of characters and a bit of romance and adventure, Flying is the perfect light summer read.”—BookPage
Order Your Copy:
I made a video about copy editing my next book, co-written with Steve Wedel. It’s called IN THE WOODS and its scary self arrives in 2019. BUT HERE IS THE GOOFY VIDEO!
Our podcast DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE is still chugging along. Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of.
The Final Time Stoppers Book
What is it? It’s the third TIME STOPPERS book!
Time Stopper Annie’s newfound home, the enchanted town Aurora, is in danger. The vicious Raiff will stop at nothing to steal the town’s magic, and Annie is the only one who can defeat him–even though it’s prophesied that she’ll “fall with evil.”
Alongside her loyal band of friends Eva, Bloom, SalGoud, and Jamie, who still isn’t quite sure whether he’s a troll or not, Annie journeys deep into the Raiff’s realm, the Badlands. The group will face everything from ruthless monsters to their own deepest fears. Can Annie find the courage to confront the Raiff and save everyone, even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice? What People are Saying About The Books:
“An imaginative blend of fantasy, whimsy, and suspense, with a charming cast of underdog characters . . . This new fantasy series will entice younger fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.” – School Library Journal “The characters show welcome kindness and poignant insecurity, and the text sprinkles in humor . . . and an abundance of magical creatures.” – Kirkus Reviews
“An imaginative blend of fantasy, whimsy, and suspense, with a charming cast of underdog characters . . . This new fantasy series will entice younger fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.” –School Library Journal How to Get Signed Copies:
For signed copies – email email@example.com for Sherman’s or email firstname.lastname@example.org and let them know the titles in which you are interested. There’s sometimes a waiting list, but they are the best option. Plus, you’re supporting an adorable local bookstore run by some really wonderful humans. But here’s the Amazon link, too!
Share this if you want and also because it would be super nice of you!
In your own life, this question is easy. We root for ourselves. A lot of the time we root for our friends, our family. We almost always root for the dog. I mean, even in Cujo, the horror-novel by Stephen King where the dog is killing everyone? A lot of us still root for the dog.
But when we write books?
We want to root for the hero. The hero is who we like. The hero is who we admire.
Sometimes though, that’s sort of hard.
There are moments in Harry Potter where we’re rooting for Hermione more than Harry because Harry’s being a butt face, stubborn, sulky and insolent.
But Harry’s a better hero because of that. We can relate to him and find hope in our own hero potential because he is imperfect. If imperfect people can be heroes, so can we.
So can we.
Here’s the truth.
Heroes aren’t perfect. Not in real life. Not in books. And a lot of the time people don’t identify with heroes that are too perfect like Captain America or Superman because their goodness seems so impossible. They’ll prefer Iron Man or Batman because they are flawed and moody or temperamental and snarky. It’s easier to relate to that lack of perfection.
This is not true for Carrie obviously. She’s all Cap all the time because she can relate to being imperfect because of her own self righteousness and savior complexes more than being imperfect because she’s moody, sulky snark. It’s kind of a problem, honestly.
But back to the point. Your hero probably shouldn’t be perfect. Perfection is kind of annoying.
How Do You Write a Hero Who Isn’t Typical or Basically Doesn’t Suck?
The same way you write everyone else.
Listen to people other than yourself, how they talk, how they think. Use your empathy to understand their character and then steal some of those traits and motivations for your own hero.
Tweak the trope. Sure you have archetypes of messiahs/warriors/matriarchs/mystics, but go beyond the trope when you’re making your hero. She might be like Xena the Warrior Princess, but she can have a goofy Whose That Girl side like Jess. Give your ‘mystic’ trope a ‘matriarch’ profession like a lawyer or judge.
Think about your own heroes – the ones in real life. What do they do that isn’t all that heroic? Talk with their mouth full? Wipe their boogers on the edge of the seat of the car? Use that.
Dog Tip For Life
When you let go of your need to be the perfect puppy all the time, you get to chill out a little bit more. Chilling out is good for your heart.
Writing Tip of the Cast
We all want to be perfect. We aren’t. Our heroes shouldn’t be either.
Carrie’s back from Book Expo America and super excited about the upcoming TIME STOPPERS book coming out this August.
This middle grade fantasy series happens in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine and it’s all about friendship and magic and kids saving their magical town.
It’s quirky. It’s awesome. It’s full of heart. You should go by the first two books now. 🙂
For a complete round-up of Carrie’s 16-or-so books, check out her website. And if you like us, or our podcast, or just want to support a writer, please buy one of those books, or leave a review on a site like Amazon. Those reviews help. It’s all some weird marketing algorhthym from hell, basically.
Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips.
Don’t let one attribute define the character. An author can’t make a character’s one attribute be that she has seizures any more than the author can make that character’s one attribute be that she is only her race or only cranky or gay or hearing-impaired or short or really into ping-pong, so into ping-pong that she only refers to it as table tennis.
What did the nurse do when she saw that her patient was having a seizure in the bathtub?
She threw in the laundry.
-Common epilepsy joke on the Internet
Lovely, right? Dehumanizing. Who cares if the patient drowns. The laundry is more important.
Don’t Let One Attribute Define an Entire Character
It’s the same as creating any character. Don’t let one attribute define the character. An author can’t make a character’s one attribute be that she has seizures any more than the author can make that character’s one attribute be that she is only her race or only cranky or gay or hearing-impaired or short or really into ping-pong, so into ping-pong that she only refers to it as table tennis.
Some authors use sketches to create a full character, asking themselves questions such as: What does my character want? How old was she when she crawled? What was the worst thing that ever happened to her in kindergarten? Does she like hot dogs and if not, why?
Characters always need to be well rounded, whether they have epilepsy or not.
“A helpful concept to remember when developing characters for a story is that, as in real life, they should exhibit a mosaic of overlapping, sometimes contradictory traits.” (Epstein 56)
I was at my in-laws house and several teenage cousins were sitting in the living room watching television. Someone was dancing poorly on the sitcom they were watching.
“Oh my God,” one of the girls said. “It’s like she’s having a freaking seizure… look at her.”
“What a spaz,” another girl said.
2. Be Aware of the Stereotypes
Writers can and should incorporate characters with epilepsy and disabilities into children’s fiction and they can do it without perpetuating negative biases against people with disabilities. To do so, authors must be aware of the stereotypes, write against the stereotypes, and create well-rounded characters.
Yeah, I’d like it if tv writers did it as well. But, right now, I’ll take what I can get.
My daughter Emily snuggles into her bed. She stares at me, smiles, pulls me down into a hug and says, “Mommy, I wish you didn’t ever have seizures.”
“Yeah, me too,” I say and smell her hair, which reminds me of bananas.
“It’s not a big thing, though, right?”
Her eyes are teddy bear sweet and her fingers twirl a piece of my hair.
“Nope,” I say. “Not a big thing at all.”
Do a web search on fictional children’s books dealing with epilepsy and you don’t come up with much. Even epilepsy foundations have meager resources for picture book fans. Epilepsy.com lists just eight books that deal with epilepsy in a fictional narrative. Yet, at least 300,000-plus American children with epilepsy have friends and schoolmates. Not many of those children connect with books that deal with the subject.
A majority of books that do exist for children have their characters whose development comes from growing beyond a negative stereotype of someone with epilepsy.
What I’m wondering is why?
In her paper, “Portrayal of People with Disabilities in Children’s Literature: 1940s to 1980s” Maeleah Carlisle wrote, “Children’s literature often reflects the current society’s values and attitudes.” (1)
That is true today.
It is no wonder that many authors use negative epileptic stereotypes for their protagonists. Most people have slight understanding of the disorder. Is this true about other conditions? Other disabilities?
In a paper about epilepsy and stigma printed in the Journal of Epilepsy and Clinical Neurophysiology, the scientist’s conclusion was, “Stigma not only coexists with lack of information, but also with inappropriate behaviors .” (Fernandes 213)
Children’s authors have been unintentionally perpetuating those stigmas. But the lack of literature itself is also perpetuating the silence around conditions and disorders. This is troubling because “Children’s literature can inform and influence children’s images of people with disabilities.” (Carlisle 5)
Colin Barnes and researchers Biklen and Bogdan illustrated multiple ways in which literature and the media stereotypes people with disabilities. Those stereotypes also exist in children’s literature .
Those stereotypes include:
Person with disabilities is pitiable.
Person with disabilitiesis the helpless victim of violence.
Person with disabilities is evil.
Person with disabilities is saintly, godly, a superhero. Some sort of extraordinary trait occurs to make the reader love the epileptic champion/hero.
Person with disabilities is worthy of ridicule.
Person with disabilities is “own worst enemy.” They could get better if they would just take their medicine, not drink, etc…
Person with disabilities is a burden. They are a drain on their parents’ emotions, money, time.
Person with disabilitiescan’t live a regular life with normal activities. (Biklen and Bogdan 6-9; Barnes 2-7)
In examining the existing children’s literature, I found that in most books the protagonists’ character development hinged on breaking free of the stereotypes of epilepsy. This is also somewhat true of other disabilities, but not always. It’s the “not always” that gives me hope.
While at Vermont College in January 2006, I told fellow students my thesis topic.
“Wow,” they said.
Then they’d usually nod and something would shift behind their eyes. They would pause, maybe bite their lips, maybe look to the side and then almost every single one of them asked. “Why are you so interested in epilepsy?”
“Because I have seizures,” I said.
“Oh,” said one.
“Really,” said another.
My favorite person? She just nodded and said, “That’s cool.”
3. Do Whatever You Can To Understand Epilepsy
If you are writing about an experience outside of yourself and that experience is often used to ‘other’ people in a really bad way, you need to put in the work so that you don’t reduce your characters, so you can get your head into a space that is close to empathy and understanding.
What’s it like having seizures? It’s not really like anything for me. It just is. But my experience with epilepsy isn’t everyone’s experience with epilepsy and that’s important to remember. There’s no one way to have epilepsy or autism or diabetes or anything. There is no one way to be.
I sort of hate referencing my own life and books when I post about things, because it always seems so self-serving, but when I wrote TIPS and the sequel, LOVE AND OTHER USES FOR DUCT TAPE, I wrote them because I wanted to have REAL characters with complicated problems and complicated thoughts and complicated personalities. My daughter, Em, was begging for this. But something inside of me was begging for this too. I wanted to write a book where someone had seizures, but it wasn’t the end of the world, it wasn’t what defined them, it was just something about them, just like it was something about me.
Author Rick Riordan said in our correspondence, “As far as why is it important to have characters with differences, again I had a very personal reason. I wanted my son to relate to the hero and feel better about the learning problems that were causing him trouble in school. It’s also real life to have lots of different kinds of people, and it can make for richer writing.”
That’s so important. It’s something we’re still learning in so many ways. All of us.
Mellon, C.A. “Evaluating the portrayal of disabled characters in juvenile fiction.” Journal of Youth Services in Libraries. 2(2): 1989, 143-150
What is it about you that you don’t feel like people don’t understand? That they make into a stereotype?
How can you show someone that you see them? What can you do to see them better?
Random Other Writing and Work News:
The pub date for THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID, is March? You can preorder it here or anywhere. It’s an anthology that I have a piece in.
I’m starting a podcast. The landing page will be here and also on my website and in all those typical podcast places, hopefully. It will be raw. It will be quirky because seriously… look at me… I don’t know how to be normal.
I am incredibly terrified about this podcast. So, please leave a review once you check it out.
Also, on my website are the stories of how my books like the NEED series or TIME STOPPERS came into being, how I paint to get more into my stories, or more info about me and all that stuff that’s supposed to be on websites.
My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who was a spy, is still coming out March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can preorder it.
And there you go, Friday’s blog post. Please let me know here if you can (and not just on Facebook) if you’ve checked it out. I hope you have an amazing, wonderful weekend where you shout out who you are to the world and the world loves you for it.
Share this if you want and also because it would be super nice of you!