Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Woke or Unwoke? What Does That Mean?

Man, this one is an interesting thing and if you put out an internet search for "Woke" you get everything from Old English to heightened new age awareness. Depending on your point of view,  being "woke", having or creating "woke" characters or creating woke stories can be viewed through distinctly different lenses. And I don't mean lenses of color. These lenses are different, and should be used with great care.

Like the rest of you, I hear about folks being "woke", but often your "wokeness" is based on their level of expectation: What the observer likes, wants, believes, embraces, etc. Their life assesses your awareness. 

I think, put simply, it's another level of judgment, one person against the other (or "for" the other, if your likes and dislikes align) and it's become an air of anger or indignation on social media. 

The question for authors is who establishes your "woke" level?

Readers. Readers and sales and reviews and likes vs. dislikes of your work determines what they think of your awareness of the human condition. In the end, being woke doesn't seem to be about awareness anymore... it's about agreement. Sometimes the "fall into line or be quiet" kind of agreement, but how do you translate this into story? How do you stay relevant but respectful? How do you target an audience and show sensitivity to others?

Authors who have never served in the military write military stories. Writers who've never piloted a plane have written pilots as heroes or heroines. Authors who have never been a priest or minister, write about them all the time. Writers who've never been a MAN write men as heroes or protagonists all the time, but in our current times publishers discourage (or refuse) to have authors write outside their color/race/ethnicity. Social media attacks have turned a "woke" society into a battleground where authors have had to change characters the past few years because they're not allowed to write people of color if they're not a person of color.

And then they wonder why so many authors are working in the indie market where great stories are gobbled up by grateful readers. Sometimes following the rules makes sense... but this is one case where it doesn't make sense. A good writer is almost always writing about something he or she doesn't personally know.

You can write murder mysteries and never kill a soul. I mean it! REALLY!!!


You can write about a teacher without an education degree. You can write about a paraplegic, a blind person, an autistic child, a Down Syndrome adult, a veterinarian, a cop, a civil engineer, a midwife, and never have been near anyone who's given birth.

I've been blessed to sell over 2,000,000 books the last eleven years. That's an amazing number! That's a crazy wonderful thing! And depending on who your target audience is, your writing is geared toward that audience. The audience might be broad-based or more narrow. These aren't bad things, this is why publishers and Amazon have so many genres and imprints. 

So are you unwoke if you write for a Christian imprint like Love Inspired, Bethany House, Tyndale, Waterfall Press? 

Not to those readers. Those readers have the right to pick and choose what they want to read and maybe they pick from multiple genres (so many of us do!) or maybe they stay more narrowly focused (and that's their choice, right)? Targeting a specific audience isn't to disclude others: It's to focus the sales dollars appropriately to a paying public. 

I love writing all kinds of characters. My stories are generally women's fiction or romance, and I write with a calling to uplift women. It doesn't matter what color, ethnicity, religion they are... their commonality is being a woman who's had to face strife or trauma or terror.... and writing stories that identify with them.

To me, that's enough. They shouldn't have to be all white because I'm white. That's not the world most of us live in. But I also understand how quickly social media targets and attacks and no publisher wants to be in that particular set of headlights these days. We've all seen what's happened on Twitter and other social media outlets.

The blessing for authors like me is that I can write books like Refuge of the Heart (A Chechnyan prisoner of war), The First Gift (a biracial child and the white teacher that helps her) a cowboy who falls in love with an interior designer, (see, it doesn't matter what race they are, and I didn't put it into the description because it is of no consequence to the story...) a black supermodel with an eating disorder, a black nanny who steps in when three little rich girls lose their mother, a biracial boy who just wants to be loved, a Latina housekeeper with a secret past... with over 60 books in print, the idea that I can/should only write in my own color spectrum isn't just wrong.

It's silly. 

We don't have to be woke to know that writers write... doctors heal... singers sing... Erecting arbitrary lines of demarcation isn't natural... or normal.

Awareness and sensitivity are clutch for any writer in any genre, but there's something about my stubborn Irish nature that sets my hackles on edge when someone says "You can't do this." 

Because my first reaction is.... "Hold my beer."

And I don't even drink beer.


Bestselling and multi-published, award-winning author Ruth Logan Herne is kind of a know it all, but she's okay with that and hopes you are, too. With  over 60 published novels and novellas and more in the works, Ruthy loves writing the kind of characters the leap off the page and into your heart... Find her on Facebook, stop by her website ruthloganherne.com, drop her an email at loganherne@gmail.com and if you want a really good book to read, you might want to start with her latest Love Inspired "Rebuilding Her Life" or her upcoming mystery from Guideposts "Prescription for Mystery"... available soon from Guideposts.com OR you can win a copy here, today! This is a time-slip mystery that touches the heart... and tends the soul. Leave a comment below to be entered!





46 comments:

  1. Thank you Ruth! I agree with you 100 percent.

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    1. Bettie, good morning! I know it's put publishers in a hard place because social media erupts if you get a crowd that doesn't approve of things... but the option to self-publish is there for us, and that's important because I'm not a fan of silencing any voice of reason... no matter whose it is!

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  2. Thank you for discussing “woke and unwoke”. Authors should not be limited to writing from their race only, but be free to write from any ethnicity. Research can be done to add authenticity and the book can add knowledge to the reader’s understanding of the particular ethnicity. To me, it’s similar to a historical novel. Enough research is done to give authenticity to the book, and may add to the reader’s knowledge of that historical period. (I’ve only had half a cup of coffee, so hopefully this makes sense!)

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    1. It makes perfect sense, Edwina... and while I understand the reach for "own voices" and want to see black or Asian or any author have chances, the idea that white authors can't write people of color is odd... and it's being done by several publishers to appease crowds. It's not that I don't want people to be published... it's that when we cancel anything, or any voice, we stand to lose the depth of the work. And you're right, we research so many things! It's the way of writing. Thank you for stopping in and commenting!

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  3. Well said, Ruthy! So many great points here. And instead of beer, I'll hold your iced coffee for you while you take on the world. ;)

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    1. Iced coffee it is, LOL!

      I love working with my publishers, I am so blessed, but I know that some of them get put in the crosshairs of "wokeness" and in the end, they all want/need to make money.

      There are moments when I just want to pat the world on the head and say "settle down, dear. Settle down..." because it's probably not healthy to get worked up over every little thing that happens anywhere... while ignoring monster-sized problems in other areas, but that's a whole other blog topic!!!

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  4. You write such interesting articles. Thank you for sharing. I love the cozy cover.

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    1. Lucy, thank you! I love that cover, too, it's got hints of the backstory of the mystery, how the past weighs tight upon the present. Such a good series!!!

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  5. I'll admit that as an unpublished author putting something out there that might be considered insensitive is daunting. But then I realize that climate and culture has (in my opinion) hit a level of crazy that I never saw coming, so I'll just write whatever God has given me to write, to whichever audience finds it useful and try not to worry about the rest. Thanks for giving us all something to think about as we following the call.

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    1. Glynis, I think you said it perfectly... we follow the call. I have always thought of my writing, and uplifting women, as a calling. That God put this on my heart long ago and now I get to live it. So I'm not trying to be a jerk (my family would tell you there is no "TRY" involved, they are quite familiar with me when I'm being a jerk, LOL!) but to let aspiring authors know that they have options and choices they can make... and always the first choice is to work hard! And then to write a story worth telling, no matter what color/race/creed/ethnicity.

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  6. Interesting post, Ruthy. You write so well about any type of character. That goes to show what a good author can do!

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    1. Sandy, what a beautiful thing to say! Thank you, sweet lady. I think I do, too, and I've had great advice from editors over the years that have helped me hone that because I might see things differently if my skin were brown or I was Native American, etc. I hope this doesn't minimize the importance of being heard in many voices, but not at the cost of silencing other voices. More like a choir, in harmony, each one doing the best part they can.

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  7. I agree you shouldn't be limited in your writing because of things you can't control like your skin color and heritage. I hate that we are starting to see this in film industry when actors don't have the right heritage, beliefs, etc they are getting attacked for just taking a job. I was wondering how it would start to creep into the writing industry. As long as the characters are good and the book catches my interest I'm happy. The cover on Prescription for Mystery is really cute! ~ Laura AKA Loves 2 Read Romance

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    1. Hey, Laura, glad you stopped by and sorry that Mr. Blogger didn't let you be Laura in name... And yeah, it's that kind of thing, a cancel culture wall that I understand from the publishers' point of view after watching what's happened the last two years (even pre-pandemic)... it's like feasting coyotes, on a hunt, and that's unhuman to me... except when I read the book "Neighbors" two years ago, a dissertation about a small Polish town under Nazi occupation and what happened when the townspeople were given a weekend to do whatever they wanted to the Jews... and the result was carnage. Sometimes we forget to stand up for ourselves while standing for others, or we forget that kindness is far more powerful than vengeance and murder... We forget to live a New Testament kind of life in an Old Testament moment. I'm so glad you stopped by! Tucking your name into the drawing!

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  8. Congrats on 2M books in print, Ruthy! Fantastic! Readers love your stories. I do too!

    And we are living in crazy times...really crazy! :(

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    1. It is crazy, isn't it? People will look back on this stuff and shake their heads, probably not unlike parts of our history... Salem witch trials? "I saw Goody Proctor with the devil!!!".... Jim Crow laws.... I mean, what the heck???? News media working for a side instead of a middle.... and folks letting themselves be led instead of leading.... slavery... blacklisting... McCarthyism.... when people live in fear instead of rejecting fear and embracing courage, we lose a really important element of our society.

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  9. Well said, Ruthie. Thanks for speaking truth boldly and unapologetically...and for making me laugh at the end. :)

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    1. Well, if I DRANK BEER, I'd hold yours, Karen! And you could hold mine. :)

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  10. I agree, Ruthy. You wrapped it up there toward the end: "It's silly."

    *sigh*

    I just put my head down and write the stories I'm supposed to write.

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    1. I agree fully. We keep moving forward, looking ahead and writing stories... and if folks read them, well good!!!!!

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  11. I LOVE this post, Ruth! So much truth here! And we need people to be bold, as you are here, to speak the truth even if it risks negative consequences. Thank you for setting that example and for emboldening your fellow authors to speak and write truth and light into these times.

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    1. Jerusha, thank you for that shout out, those kind words. If we all stay silent we lend assent to things that really should be brought out, aired out, dusted off and set back, cleaned and ready for a new day. The silence about things lets it brew and if you're making beer or wine or bread, that's fine... but if things brew too long, the dough or drink turn sour. And then that's on us. So better to talk about them, right?

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  12. I agree with you 100% Ruthy! I do not adhere to this "woke" mentality..not at all! I see it as hypersensitivity about any and all things, used the majority of the time in the most hypercritical ways. I won't even say the word except like here when it is discussed for all it's flaws.
    Now diversity can be a lovely thing in stories and the authors that write them. You have tackled diversity very well in the past and I know I can count on you to handle various topics and ethnicity with great sensitivity. Enough said!

    I love the cover of Prescription for Mystery and I do love a good time slip too. I'm looking forward to it!

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    1. We are having so much fun on the Miracles and Mysteries of Mercy Hospital series! A great group of authors and wonderful books, Tracey! And thank you for your kind words. I didn't mean to fish for compliments, but when we work hard at something to get it right only to be told we're the wrong person to tell the story, that just doesn't sit right. And I know it's happened to a number of authors... or they've had history "rewritten" to reflect current waves... and of course that's silly, too. It was what it was and we should learn from it and be better people because we learned from it.

      Thank you for stopping by!

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  13. Well said, Ruthy! There are too many people looking for things to be offended by these days. It's crazy!

    Winnie Thomas

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    1. And too easily offended, Winnie, as if it matters... and in so many cases, it doesn't. We're offended by things that we have no stake in, or that others want us to believe, things that aren't true only it takes a year to show that the uproar was truly much ado about nothing... It is concerning that we're letting ourselves be played, but also how easily people are led by those who aren't true leaders.

      It's always good to examine all sides of issues and leadership, and to keep an open mind and that circles right back to writing and story telling.

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  14. Hi Ruthy
    I'm tired of "woke"-ness. I just want to Love God. Love people. make disciples. Like Jesus told us to do right before He ascended into Heaven.
    I think your books do just that. You DEFINITELY uplift women in your stories and as readers. Well, at least I'm always uplifted. My son would say I always cry when I read your books. I probably do, bit that's because the humanness and emotions run so true. The cry is cathartic. I always feel better after reading your books.
    You write PEOPLE - humans are people no matter ethnicity or belief system.
    I love reading your articles too.
    Been so busy for some time, I've missed Seekerville. You all ROCK!!!!!!

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    1. We have missed you too! I love seeing you and the Gupster on Facebook... and I know life has taken some turns for you guys out there in the wild, wild West, LOL! Go get 'em! But I'm glad you stopped by today, I appreciate it and your kind words. Thank you, Deb!

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  15. Agreed, Ruthy. I feel like as long as we treat each character the same, it shouldn't matter what they look like. Just like it shouldn't matter in the real world, either.

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    1. #truth

      Total truth. Why should it matter? And having said that, I want everyone to have the shot they deserve, and everyone to have their chances. So I'm not against having books done by representative peoples, but that should never be considered as a limitation. Dear heavens, we'd be missing a lot of classics if we all had to live what we wrote...

      And I'm pretty sure that J.K. Rowling IS NOT A WIZARD!!!!!

      But she writes them quite well. :)

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  16. Great Post, Ruthy. I personally have never treated a broken collarbone. Gone through a flood in a covered wagon. Survived a massacre. Driven a stagecoach. And yet here I am writing all about it.

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    1. Exactly... we study, we infer, we learn, we apply... and I like a diverse population in my stories even though I live in a mostly white rural area between Rochester and Buffalo. I've never been a black supermodel but I wrote a really good one in "Finding Peace in Wishing Bridge" and that makes me smile. Even though I'm not black OR a supermodel!!!! Go figure!

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  17. Hi Ruth:

    "Woke" implies that the non-woke are sleep walking zombies oblivious to the 'way things really are'. Actually the 'woke' have accepted the 'yoke' of total submission to PC ideology and are now so enlightened that they can see the emperor's clothes.

    The "woke" are the new Baroque, those who have carried the PC dictums to the absurd. Once it made sense to call for actors playing Native Americans to be Native American rather than white people with dark makeup on. That actually made sense in the 1950's; however, to carry that reasoning to authors writing books outside their ethnicity is absurd. It amounts to seeing the emperor's clothes.

    The 'woke' would make speech they hate illegal. They would make religions that do not honor PC ideology illegal as purveyors of hate. Their cherished 'woke' state can be easily shattered by sensible opposing views: thus the need for safe spaces free of free speech and the major efforts by the 'woke' to keep conservatives from speaking on campus.

    There was once a Dominican friar in Renascence Florence, Girolamo Savonarola, who advanced his own PC thought control. He terrorized the citizens for a few years with his 'woke' followers. Finally the citizens got fed up with his iconoclasm, ( his destroying all religious images), and pulled him out of his office and burned him at the stake. His followers were the 'woke' of their time but it didn't take long for all those 'woke' to go up in smoke. Shall we say, "Gone with the Wind." (A movie currently being banned by the 'woke'.)

    Does anyone enjoy bonfires?

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    1. Thanks for this, Vince. Well said. Where I work, they push to include "marginalized" folks so hard to the point where I, as a Christian, am beginning to feel a bit marginalized because my belief system is not acceptable.

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    2. Vince, I wasn't familiar with that story but how good that the people rose up and re-took their control although it's a pretty tough sentence! EEK!

      And if we don't learn from the past and the present and apply that knowledge, then maybe it's because we're learning it wrong now and not being taught to think, but what to think. And that's a major difference.

      I'm so glad you stopped by today! Thank you!

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  18. What a Great Post Thanks for sharing this Blessings to you!

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  19. I think you’re right, Ruthy, that some publishers (and especially some critics) are against an author writing outside of their own ethnicity altogether. The Internet is a crazy place, and it’s sometimes concerning to me the level of outrage and just plain meanness that arises.

    I think the view that’s more compelling to me on issues of diversity in fiction is that authors should A. take time to research and have one or more representatives of the group they’re writing about give them feedback (whether it’s a different race, mental health issue, physical disability, etc.) and B. think carefully when they’re making money off of a story primarily about the suffering of a different people group. (I think that was the heart of the controversy around American Dirt.) Not sure if that fits the “woke” definition, but I really do think that’s closer to what most in the Christian market are saying.

    I love that more writers are trying to write authentically, sometimes using beta readers to help with that. Personally, recently, I thought, “Maybe I should wait until a Black Christian author has a shot at writing the story of the Tuskegee Airmen and the prejudice they faced before I do.”—especially because I know a Black Christian author who wants to tell that story soon. On the other hand, my next novel features a character who’s one of the first Black paratroopers, which I felt totally fine doing with lots of research and feedback. That’s how I reasoned through that personally. It was less about what I had a right to do or how I could avoid offending anyone, and more what I could do well and how I could respect my fellow Black historical fiction sisters (who really do still have obstacles in the Christian publishing space—I could talk for a long time on that one).

    This isn’t contradicting anything you said…just giving readers something else to think about. And I think you’d agree with most of it too. Not all calls to caution about writing diversely are saying that we can’t, just that it’s best done wisely.

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    1. I agree 100%, Amy... and I probably should have added the caveat of how its done, I think that's clutch.

      I've used beta readers on several projects and my editors have, too... sometimes because of ethnicity or race, sometimes to make sure that technical things are correct and I love that extra set of eyes.

      Publishers get caught in crosshairs from either side on issues like this and that can be tough. Before I left Twitter I saw how quickly things went downhill for various authors/writers and how quickly mob mentality kicks in when folks gather a crowd. Like I mentioned in an above comment, anyone who doesn't believe in how destructive a negative mindset can be should read "Neighbors" by Jan T. Gross.
      NEIGHBORS:THE DESTRUCTION OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY

      Readers are more simplistic... they want a great story that touches them, heart and soul. And from my perspective, I want a story that uplifts women, helps them to see the possibilities life offers no matter what else has happened.

      And there are obstacles for people of color in so many ways. I don't believe it's as simple as the spin word "systemic racism" because I don't think it's systemic... I think it's acute depending on geography/city/etc.

      I love seeing more black authors being published. My advice to them is to cross that color line from their side and write about people other than black characters because there's nothing wrong with going for mass appeal... and that might depend on genre, too. And, as authors, we bring so much of our personal experiences into our stories that drawing on and building a strong readership is a wonderful goal.

      Thanks for stopping by, Amy.

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    2. Thanks, Ruthie! I think mentioning how you go about writing diverse character carefully could be helpful to others in a future post. I've judged contests, and I've seen some new authors who haven't done that kind of research, which, like you said, is super important. (Nothing makes me cringe more than stereotypes in all forms...and I just think, "One beta reader would have totally fixed this!")

      In reading the comments, I guess I felt like people were missing the heart of this issue. I've seen a lot of indignation and even fear surrounding questions of diversity in the Christian writing space, and that worries me. Lots of talk about what we have a right to do, worry that we are being threatened by a hostile culture (maybe even marginalized or discriminated against as white authors), language of defensiveness that tends to divide. It might be all in my head, I know there's some truth to concern about Internet outrage and censorship, and I want to be clear that I'm not speaking against what you're trying to say here. But I do like to pipe up just to remind people in discussions like this that if we focus on loving our neighbors, that'll help us speak well about in conversations about diversity in the writing world, and write better stories, and make wise decisions about diversity, and want to put in the effort to write characters from other backgrounds well.

      Which I know you're all about too!

      Thanks for supporting your Black author friends too! It's been great to see that in the Christian community, especially recently. I could get a lot better at that, honestly.

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    3. Amy, thank you for your comments that echo my own heart so well. I find it so interesting that Christians are quick to be defensive over their assumed rights being infringed on when, as followers of Jesus, we are taught to put other people first, to not hold tightly to our rights, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (including, but not limited to, laying down our life for them)

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  20. I consider myself part-time woke and full-time author pitching a manuscript. I fear even if accepted and published it will fall prey to #OwnVoices wokeness.

    You see, the novel's protagonist is a 30-something Swiss expat, a single mom cohabiting a two-room flat in Piraeus Greece with her five-year-old son whose late father was Iraqi. She turns amateur detective when a kidnapper she helped nab is let go, and deploys a homemade surveillance camera where the perp lives. That watchbird bears fruit and soon she's organizing a flash mob to confront him when his next new victim arrives. Think of it as Contemporary Literary Women's Crime Fiction.

    I am not Swiss. I am not Iraqi. I am not a woman, nor do I live in Greece. As a cis-gender white American male, I don't expect to be given the time of day by literary agents (75% of whom seem to be female, according to QueryTracker) and on whose websites the majority of titles tend to have female authors.

    Please tell me this #OwnVoices thing is not going to be a real problem for me.

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    1. Oh, I almost forgot, neither am I Muslim. The dead Iraqi father, having failed to reach Paradise, watches over his family and friends from limbo/Bardo. He speaks in soliloquizes, figuring out her situation, wanting to help, hoping to move on in death. So there's that non-authenticity as well. Look what I've done to myself. I should get a prize for the most unsalable great manuscript of 2021.

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    2. Oh, you made me laugh because we've all written unsaleable things and then sometimes have sold them. First, welcome, Geoff... And I love to take chances with stories because what's the worst that can happen? We revise and resubmit or eventually self-publish but... and this is a big but... if we do that too soon we risk losing lots of opportunities.

      I love the premise, it sounds like a Ludlum type story only with a female lead. So good for you on that! And if we authors never took a leap or a chance, we'd never get anywhere.

      Good for you, Geoff!

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  21. Focusing on color puts more divisions among us. There are thousands of cultures out there, not just black, white and brown skins. But the bottom line is we are all PEOPLE. We love, we hurt, we struggle, we have faith issues or family struggles. We have challenges in life, we suffer loss. We are all alike inside. We want love and acceptance. Success and hope. The beauty of being a writer is we get to step inside that skin, no matter what the color, to reach into the heart of things that matter to ALL of us. If we followed this rule we wouldn't have To Kill a Mockingbird. We wouldn't have Gone with the Wind. We wouldn't have The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate that came out a few months ago. Or Ashley Clark's The Dress Shop on King Street. Those books made me FEEL. Reading makes us empathetic because that we become the person we're reading about. This is one rule I would never follow no matter who told me to because it's wrong. completely and totally wrong. There is room for all the voices out there. Are we offended if a black author writes a white character? Of course not. If I can bring more understanding to the human condition with a character of another culture, then I'll write that. Because that's the goal. The camaraderie of being human.

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  23. I didn't see this post until today because life. And i agree that in a perfect world this 'wokeness' would be silly. However, because we don't live in a perfect world, I think that the reason behind it is not silly at all and to dismiss it as such can be perceived as a slap in the face of our fellow brothers & sisters in Christ in the publishing industry. Which I know was not your intent in the least, dear Ruthy. And it should be fine for every talented white author to write whatever characters they want to, wisely and with sensitivity/beta readers at the ready, - as long as every talented Black author is getting the chance to write whatever characters they want to as well. Until that happens, I think we have work to do as people involved in the Christian publishing industry, and above all we should be putting others' needs above our own. Amy's comments are spot on!

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