Monday, June 10, 2013

Diversity in Literature and a giveaway!

AMC_8382
by Rajdeep Paulus

Rajdeep Paulus writes Contemporary Young Adult Fiction and blogs weekly at In Search of Waterfalls. Connect with her in on:TwitterFacebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, and Instagram! Her debut novel, Swimming Through Clouds, released June 1st with Playlist Young Adult Fiction!

Bringing Rainbows to Young Adult Fiction

I grew up on books. I’ve loved reading for as long as I can recall, and road trips were the best. This was back in the day when my parents owned a station wagon, (a what?!) and no one cared if you laid down in the back. I just brought a stash of book, and the miles went by like nothing. And when it was too dark to read, I laid on my back and looked for shooting stars.

As a new writer, only having completed about three full manuscripts at this point, I found it only natural to introduce characters of my ethnic background. (I was born in Punjab, India, but celebrated my third birthday in New York!) My first book, the one that will probably never leave the archives, is told from the point of view of a North Indian girl who grew up in Chicago named Rani. She even resembles me with her long straight dark brown hair.

And maybe someday her story will get dusted off and find a home. For now, she makes a cameo in Swimming Through Clouds. But I still love her, because she helped me to find Talia and Lagan and their story.

I think everyone wants to read a story they can identify with. Not just on an emotional level, but just like very few of us resemble Barbie growing up, we all need to identify with characters and stories that remind us of ourselves physically, culturally, and ethnically—to name a few categories.

On a hunt for these very stories, as a senior during my undergrad years at Northwestern, my one Indian English Professor, Madhu Dubey, agreed to help me craft a senior project centered around the ten or so South-Asian authors I was able to find at the time. Authors who wrote in English. And wrote stories that took place in America. The thing is, as is with so much of cultural fiction, the running theme repetitively centered around living between two cultures. The “hyphened” generation, if you will. And I get that. Many of us whose ethnic roots lie across the oceans are only a couple of generations away from our parents as immigrants. So the stories were needed (and still are,) but, there are so many other stories to tell. Tales that include ethnic and cultural details but center around the more universal experiences of life. That’s my goal as a writer. To introduce colorful stories that no matter what your background is, you can step into them and feel connected, make friends, and fall in love.

I grew up in Windsor, Ontario which wasn’t that diverse. Then I finished high school in Livonia, Michigan, and I think I was one of three or four brownies in the whole school. Not until I ventured off to college at Northwestern and fell in love with Chicago did I get to immerse in diversity. And my friends were from all over the globe, and that’s how I always imagined my life. Happened to marry a guy from India, but his family is from the Southern most state of Kerala while I was born in Punjab, in the north. A North meets South love story I like to tell people. And if you’re talking India, that pretty much means two different countries. We call our kids Malayabis or Punjialis, since he’s a Malu! :)

I think that’s why I love being a New Yorker best. The world has showed up here, and I can’t wait to write their stories. We’re friends with so many couples who are married interracially, that when I spin my head, every other kid has a beautiful mix of features on his or her face. In my own family, many of my nieces and nephews celebrate at least two cultural backgrounds, sometimes three. And the world is changing more than ever. Diversity is accepted and celebrated more than ever. Why shouldn’t literature reflect this? I think it should!

And you? Do you have a favorite YA read that featured a diverse band of characters? Or is there a story you're itching to write? Maybe a buff Eskimo dude meets a lost Caribbean teen who wanders off from her Tour Guide group and knows nothing about how to weather the cold let alone how to dress for the Arctic! Make your own up! I'd love to hear what ideas you amazing teens come up with!

We're super excited to give away a free download of Rajdeep's debut novel, Swimming Through Clouds. Here's how you can enter to win:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

78 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Kara! Hope you get a chance to check it out! :) -raj

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  2. Wonderful post Rajdeep! Very valuable :)

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  3. I love diverse characters!! It makes stories so much more realistic. I live in Australia, where we're (basically all) originally from another country! I have my own "version" of India, the Amazon jungles, and China in my books. It's a lot of fun researching different cultures too.
    Thanks for the awesome post!

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    1. Ooooh! Australia! One of my dream places to visit! And the Amazon! Sounds like you have your head wrapped around some pretty colorful stories, Cait! :) -raj

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  4. My family is very culturally complicated, so I empathise completely with you :) my maternal great grandparents emigrated to Mexico from Russia at the time of the persecution of the Jews, then my maternal grandfather worked for the UN so he was constantly travelling. My mother has lived in Mexico, NYC, New Jersey, Switzerland and England. I'm half Mexican half British, my sis is those two and American as well -- you should see our collection of passports!! ;)

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    1. Hi Hannah! My first princess is named Hannah! Your story sounds a bit like a good friend of mine whose parents met in Columbia b/c her Jewish Dad left during the madness as well! I always think of Bourne Identity when I picture a pile of passports. Thanks for stopping by and sharing a bit about your story. :) -raj

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  5. It's always really cool when a main character is diverse. One of my favourite books, Preloved, has a Chinese main character, which is awesome.

    I love your book cover! It's amazing!

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    1. That reminds me: have you read Chinese Cinderella?

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    2. Fun!! Now I have a few more new reads to add to my list!! Thanks Mime & Hannah! :) -raj

      And thanks for the cover shout-out, Mime. :)

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  6. Well, I think it's Juvenile Fiction, but "The Amah" comes to mind.

    I adored your book, by the way! And lovely post!

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    1. Thanks for your kind words and another title, Amanda. Will check it out! :) -raj

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  7. Love the idea of writing culturally diverse characters. Our church is located to miles away from an ivy league college so we get to meet many international students, and my best friend's mom is Korean.

    I myself am pretty solidly American. My Dad's ancestors came to the country before the American Revolution, while my mom's great-grandparents came over from Italy at the beginning of the 1900s. Cool thing about that is my 101 year old great-grandmother can still tell me the stories about that!

    Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hi Leah! Thanks for sharing about your heritage! We all have history, but not all of us are lucky enough to find out the details. I bet your greart-grandma has shared some amazing stories with you! :) -raj

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  8. I don't necessarily have a favorite with diverse characters, but I like to read them. I have a fascination with other cultures and love to learn about them.

    And I couldn't help but laugh at that thing about the Eskimo.

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    1. Me too! The fascination bit. Never actually thought I'd end up marrying an Indian (American!) guy after falling in crush with black, white and Korean guys in my teen/college years. :) If you don't write about the Eskimo icicle-kissing tale… you know I will! -raj

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  9. I felt like a charecter myself when I moved from British Columbia to Rural Ontario. You would think not much would of changed since I was still in Canada, but the culture was definetly different. People hunting, talking in different context, different traditions since I landed in a Polish inhabited area. It was definetly a cool experiance though, and I'm glad i got to experiance it. I now understand their uses for diferent words and traditions and stuff. It was definetly an adventure going from one culture into a slightly different one, and maybe some day I'll write a story about it. Who knows?

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    1. Yeah! For meeting an fella-Canadian, Jacinta! I so love BC. It's like the New York of Canada, just a lot cleaner and (hope I don't get in trouble for saying this, but) those Canadians are just a tad sweeter! :) Sounds like you dove into a new culture with a pretty open mind considering. Very cool. Write it! And let me know when I can read it! :) -raj

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  10. Love this part of your writing most, Rajdeep. The diversity in characters! And people are begging for more books with characters of color so I'm thrilled yours is reaching out in that way! You will speak so effectively to the teens who want to read about characters who look like them. A beautiful rainbow!

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    1. Hi Laura!!

      Thanks for your kind shoutout! Laura's one of my Playlist Fiction sistahs! Like Steph! And for those of you not in the know, Laura and I are doing a fun Blog Tour right now called "Perfect Clouds" (her book is called Perfect Glass and mine, as you know, Swimming Through Clouds) with a bunch of fun Giveaways too, so jump onto the Tour at any point. The first two stops were at Laurakurk.com and Rajdeeppaulus.com :) !

      Rainbows rock! Yes, they do! -hugs- raj

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  11. Hiya! Nice to see you somewhere other then the street team. :P

    I would love to have a story with diverse backgrounds! Haven't found the opportune moment quite yet, but I think it would be great!

    ~Bethany

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    1. Hey Bethany!

      I think you're supposed to write the stories that YOU're supposed to write. But I love that you're willing to step out of the norm and consider the challenge. Because it's a challenge no matter what you write, to create characters that are authentic, diverse, and relatable.

      Always nice to see you too! :)
      -raj

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  12. What a great post! I was just reading from fantasy author who couldn't understand why fantasy should be disproportionally about white people in a culture modeled after the European Middle Ages. Diversity is too wonderful a thing to miss out on in your writing.

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    1. "Diversity is too wonderful a thing to miss out on…" Couldn't have said it any better! Love it.

      -raj

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    1. Thanks, Journey! And your name? Did your parents love the band or are they just celebrating the "journey" of life? Either way, super-SU-weet name! :) -raj

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  14. You have some good points here. My characters do tend to be not as diverse as they could. I'll have to work on it. Thank you very much!

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    1. Hi Sarah! You know I love the name, Sarah! :)

      I think we all tend to write the familiar, what we know, at first. It's only natural. But as we develop, I think writers are stretched by learning how someone so different from them thinks, feels, and processes life when we take a walk in their shoes, fictionally speaking. Thanks for your honesty. We all have our challenges before us. Recognizing them is the first step! :) -raj

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  15. This is a good post - and I do love your cover! The story I'm currently writing is high fantasy, but my main character is mixed-race within that world, and there are characters from a land loosely based off China, and others... A failed story I wrote recently included a fantasy China and fantasy Russia, basically.
    If I may ask - how is your name pronounced? It looks beautiful, but I'm afraid I might be getting it wrong in my head...

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    1. Awww. You're so thoughtful to ask, Maure. It's two syllables. Raj. Deep. Some say it with a softish "j" and others a hard "j" and either one works. And the "a" is more like an "aww" vowel. Deep sounds like deep. Just how it looks. I hope that helps! :)

      Most call me Raj.
      Fantasy sounds so fun. Can't say I know what you mean by "high" fantasy, but now I'm curious.

      And thanks for the cover shout-out. I am pretty in love with it. I can't lie. :) -raj

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  16. I can really understand where your coming from. My Dad is African-American, my Mom is Irish-American and they both converted to Islam. So I was born Muslim. Sometimes it seems writers forget that there characters don't need to be white, straight, able, or dress like them to be able to fit into their stories. I'm just gonna say right now that even if I don't win the giveaway, I'm still going to read your book:) The cover is beautiful by the way.

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    1. Sweet to meet you, Aisha! Cyberly speaking! Can't wait to hear what you think of Swimming Through Clouds. And thanks for the Cover shout-out. It was so important to me that readers see the main characters on the cover but not totally SEE them, ya know. :) -raj

      p.s. So what do you call yourself? Just curious? Love to hear what my Ethnically mixed friends call themselves. Like, although both my parents are Indian, I used to call myself a Coconut. Because, I am brown on the outside but kinda "white" or Midwestern on the inside in terms of cultural habits/tastes/etc. But I think I'm gonna start calling myself a truffle. Just cuz I love chocolate so much! :)

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  17. Gave me some good ideas because I'm working on character development now. Already half way into the story and I realized "hey, I have few secondary characters and the ones I have are so alike, so BORING" so i'm definitely going to try to put some in and make them diverse.

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    1. Excellent place to start, Gretilulu! Where did you get a fun name like yours, btw? Funny thing is, I had to be reminded to include some non-South Asian characters to add diversity! :) -raj

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  18. Great post! I'm in a summer Global Communications course in college right now, and we're studying a few different cultures (India, the Caribbean, and Africa). The more I learn about them, the more interested I am in reading about characters who come from different backgrounds...especially characters I can relate to, despite our differences. Plus, the class also makes me want to travel, but anyway...
    Can't wait to read your book! And the cover is gorgeous :)

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    1. Hi Anna,

      Thanks! Sounds like a coolio classio! Travel!! Yes. Best part about fiction. You can visit far away and different worlds without getting on a plane!

      Excited for all you teens to dive in and start swimming. Through Clouds! ;) -raj

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  19. Wow I can't say how happy I am that you tuched on this subject. in my current wip, a fantasy trilog about genies, I thought it was important to go a little crazy with variety so that people who read it cn relate no matter who they are. My MC's father is ethiopian while her mother is egyptian.Because the story is sort of dancing around egypt and the middle east, the love intrest is one of those dreamy alladin-like middleastern guys. Her new legal guardian however, is all-american. Yeah..its a big mish mosh of different types of people because its fantasy so I can pretty much find any way to justyify it all without much confusion :) thanks for the post and I can't wait to read your book!

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    1. Also I apologize for the typos, I'm doing thi from my cell and I'm not good with small keyboards :/.

      P.s if anyone is intrested id love if you'd check out my new blog http://escapingnormal.blogspot.com

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    2. Wow! Lagan is my "Alladin-like" dreamy Indian hero! I totally tell people that STC is a "Cinderella meets Alladin" for many reasons. :)

      Your book sounds full of some really fun and colorful characters! Great job on tackling diversity head on! And no worries on the typos. My Agent totally replied back to me with typos the first time I wrote him an email and spelled something wrong in the subject. I freaked out, totally apologetic and embarrassed. He just wrote, "Relly. I didnt notic." Yeah. Chip's fun! :)
      -raj

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  20. I love your book cover! It's always cool to read stories about other ethnic groups or people. I really enjoy it. :)

    -Abby

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    1. Yeah! Thanks for popping by, Abby! Hope you get a chance to read Swimming! -raj

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  21. That's really cool that you wrote about characters who were "different." I definitely believe that ethnic diversity should play a bigger role in fiction, simply in general, both in YA and adult. Nonfiction would be nice, too, but that might be asking for too much. :)

    However, thought diversity is really important as well. Authors are getting better at not relying on stereotypes, but there's still a lot of room for improvement.

    Congrats on your book release! It sounds great. I'd love to read it . . . If only I had more money for books. :)

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    1. Thanks, Katie! Diversity is a challenge, even when you're "ethnic" b/c each of us gravitates to what we know. If you want, at least enter the giveaway and maybe you'll win! The playlist fiction titles range from $2.99 to $4.99 so we're trying to make our Ebooks affordable. Hope you get a chance at some point to pick up a copy! :) -raj

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  22. I looove history and adore people that are "different." I'm kinda the stereotypical American - European ancestors, family has lived in the US for over a hundred years and has a home state, blonde/brunette, blue eyes - but I love writing about other cultures. For my novel about ninjas, I tried blending Japanese and American cultures and really enjoyed the way it turned out. (About 4 years of studying Japan and doing martial arts helped a lot. :))

    Also, the story about "a buff Eskimo dude meets a lost Caribbean teen who wanders off from her Tour Guide group and knows nothing about how to weather the cold let alone how to dress for the Arctic" sounds like the best romantic comedy ever.

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    1. I totally want to read it, Jessa! Are you up for writing it! Nothing like Eskimo kisses, after all! :) Ninjas Rockity Rock! Excited to see your stories come together. -raj

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  23. Ooh, it's the TITLE, that intrigues me most! Swimming Through Clouds...eek! :-)
    Great post, Rajdeep! I've just realised that I'm always writing stories with people from the same culture every time.
    I'm Australian, so I'd normally write stories set in Australia. (Or America! :D I like writing stories set in America!)
    I should try writing a story with...diversity! :-)
    Thanks so much! God bless!

    ~Koren Elise
    A writer for Him.

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    1. Hi Koren!

      Thanks for the Title shout-out! Wait till you see why it's called that!

      Excited for you. And the new journey your writing will take!
      -raj

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  24. Heya Rajdeep! I think it's really cool that you want to show the side of life that is different, so readers can learn something, and yet the same as many are used to at the same time. It can be difficult, but by the looks of things you pulled it off. Great job! :D

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    1. Hi Selah! Thanks for stopping in. Work in progress. Always! ;) -raj

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  25. Love this! I'm Indian too, and I've always kind of wondered if I could find books about Indian people in America who weren't just trying to find the balance between India and America. I really need to check out your books! They sound like just my kind of thing.

    I just started a WIP about India, but it takes place in India, not in the US. It's more about the problems with women's issues and some of the problems with poverty too.

    And I love Malayabis and Punjialis :). Not sure if anyone else got that, but that's so funny!

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    1. Yeah for a fella Brown girl!! Hi Maya! Sounds like you have a pretty sweet project you're tackling! Glad someone gets my goofy humor! :) -raj

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  26. With my grandparents immigrating from Africa on my father's side, and being mostly black, but also white, Mexican, and Native American on my mother's, I can definitely relate to the diversity thing.
    In my book, the father is white, the mother black and the child obviously biracial. The MC, who is in foster care, is Mexican and Native American. So, yeah, I like to mix stuff up :)

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    1. Hey Lexi! Your MC sounds both beautiful and lively! Just like you! :) Love any writer who likes to "mix it up!"
      -raj

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  27. Great post! Wow, that sounds like a FANTASTIC book! The cover looks so amazing, I'm dying to read it! :)

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    1. Thanks Anastasia! Can't wait to hear what you think of Swimming Through Clouds. Enjoy! :) And thanks for the sweet words! -raj

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  28. Hi Rajdeep :) I loved the post, can't wait to read your book, and btw your name is beautiful! Like so beautiful I want to steal it and use it in my writing! ;)

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    1. Ha! Now wouldn't that be fun! To read a book where the MC has my name! That's actually really fun to hear b/c most of my life, my name has been a mishap of misprouncing, and I'm the girl who wished her name was "Ann" many a day! :) But not anymore. I'm glad for the conversation starter my name often sparks! You must know by now that Sarah is one of my favorite names. Princess #4 is our Sarah and she's full of confidence and charisma! -raj

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  29. Stephanie!

    Can I just say that you have an A-MAZING group of diverse and beautiful teens that hang out here! I wanna be part of this par-tay more often, yes I do! Love meeting all of you and super excited to hear your feedback on Swimming Through Clouds. Thanks so much for sharing this little space with me!

    FYI, I have several chapters on WattPat under my name of a title I'm working on called, "Crush Me," if you're looking for a short peek at my writing style. And the main character is Meena, an Indian girl growing up in NYC. Also have a short story called, "The Color of Tomorrow" out there on the John H. Reid Short Story Contest 2012 Winners site for another short peek at my writing. That's the beginning of another novel about two sisters from Calcutta who end up in Las Vegas. Enjoy! *Cyber Hugs, ALL. Big Time* -raj

    Find me in the social media world! I wanna keep in touch! :)

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  30. Thanks for the post!
    I'm half Sri Lankan and half New Zealander myself, so it's interesting to see someone talking about diversity in books. Even though there are people of loads of different ethnic backgrounds where I live, there seem to be very few mixed-race people - I always get weird looks when people find out my dad's white.

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    1. NEW ZEALAND!! My other dream place to visit!

      Hi Kate! Can I just say that Sri Lankan food rocks! We have a lot of Sri Lankan friends and many had to leave b/c of the whole political riots mess there. So you're like this beautiful mix with a super sweet Accent! Jealous. Yes, I am. :) And of course, the cheesy fan side of me wants to know if you had a chance to see any of the Lord of the Rings films being shot over there!?!

      Now if my comments don't show my tendency to gravitate toward cultural tags, I don't know what does. Diversity is such a fascinating journey, because there's obviously so much to celebrate within each culure as well. The balancing act and finding your way through the muddle of growing up mixed is one of my heartbeat challenges. I want to explore the ways people view themselves, define their identity and embrace two or three or many different ethnic faces in a world that still asks, "What are you? Where ya from? And What do you call yourself?"

      Thanks for sharing a bit of your lovely self here at Go Teen Writers, Kate. I want to see pics of all these beautiful teens. Instagram me Selfies all you gorgeous writers and readers! Right. Now. ;) -raj

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    2. Sadly, I haven't seen any LoTR or Hobbit movies being filmed :( Wish I had, though. I love the books and films!
      I think it's really interesting how you're looking at people of different races, etc, in your novels. Most book characters seem to be white :/

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    3. Wohoo!!! Another New Zealander here!!!!!!

      I love your point here, Kate. It seems that a lot of writers are racist without meaning to be... I am going to have a character who's not white in my WIP. I decided that right now. :)

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  31. What a great post! It was so interesting getting to know you, Rajdeep. I've simply got to read Swimming Through Clouds! And speaking of New York, have you visited this place? http://www.humansofnewyork.com/ It's this guy who takes photos of people in New York and records something they said. It's awesome. Great way to find characters, too!

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    1. Hi Emii! Yeah! So fun to get to "know" you too, cyberly speaking! :) Excited to hear your thoughts on STC!

      And will definitely check out Humans New York. Ooooh. Like that idea of looking for characters there! Have you head of the Bodies Exhibit? Now that's the classic and A-mazing reminder that underneathe all these colors, shapes and sizes, we're ALL the same. -raj

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  32. This story sounds really cool!

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  33. I like what you said about people wanting to relate to the character. Everyone should be careful not to have a perfect cast.

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    1. That's really important. Not having a "perfect" cast… but, there's something to say for how in fiction, your character will naturally be a little "larger than life." Saying some pretty cool things at just the right time or wrong time and you can get away with it, b/c a writer has time to come up with that "larger than life" dialogue and "larger than life" scenes. That's what makes fiction so fun, right! Thanks for commenting, Shadow! Can I call you Shadow? :) -raj

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  34. I am interested in different cultures, I love to hear all the accents and languages and to see them all come together is so cool.
    Two of my sister's and I are adopted and we're all Hispanic while our adoptive mom is just about a little bit of everything, with ancestors from England and Norway to having a few Jews in there, too.
    Our adoptive dad's ancestors came from Germany. Plus I have cousins from Africa and Columbia as well as from Asia.

    I do like too mix it up in my stories. There are a group of my stories where several of my characters are the same people but it's not necessarily a series.
    Actually these characters are my favorite and I treasure them because I invented them when I was a child. They come from all over the world, France, China, India, Australia, Spain. Yeah, I love the diversity, thank you for sharing this post, it was wonderful! : )

    (MJ)

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    1. I thought about this and it may not be important but I forgot to mention there are African-Americans and Jews in my line of characters also. : )

      (MJ)

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    2. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing a glimpse of your life of rainbows! -raj

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  35. This is a very interesting post. International characters are definitely ones I can relate to though, since I live in an asian country but am English myself and attend an international school.
    To be honest, I haven't really had a chance to give my characters different nationalities because most of my work has been set in historical England in tiny villages. However, my WIP is set in a fantasy world and one of my main characters has parents from different nations, which happen to be at war. Having lived in a nation currently at war, this is an idea I've toyed with for a long time. Being international can really change your perspectives.
    Thanks again for sharing this!

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