"You need diversity in your writing," says the internet, "or you're racist."
I glance over my book. I've got Irish people, Scottish people, Norse people. "I've got diversity," I say.
"That doesn't count. You need people of color."
Sighing, I set aside my Welsh character and turn to a little project I've started. A murder mystery set in 1876. "There's a black person in this one," I offer. "Her name is Miss Ellie. She's a receptionist and cleaning lady, and she's really nice to the main character."
"That's a stereotype. And don't make your black characters minor characters who work in the service industry. It means you're racist," says the internet. "And you can't just have one black person in your book. Throw in more blacks and some Hispanics."
I go to the government for answers. Specifically, to the U.S. Census Bureau archives. Skip down, skip down, there's Illinois, there's DeKalb County in 1870.
Total population: 23, 265.
White population: 23, 212.
Black population: 53.
Hispanic wasn't even a category. However, the census was kind enough to note that there were zero Chinese or Indian people in DeKalb County in 1870. Or in 1880, for that matter. I looked at the data for both years.
After some math, I concluded that, in 1876, DeKalb County, Illinois, had approximately three black people for every 1,000 white people. In other words, whites made up 99.7% of the population and I would be historically accurate if I whitewashed my entire cast. However, since I don't often get to work with this kind of diversity and I'm honestly excited for it, I'm keeping Miss Ellie and her family.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to offend anyone. I mean to be respectful in my portrayal of other cultures and races. But I almost feel that, in the writing community anyway, things have gotten out of hand. The only thing people care about is representation. You have to have black people and gay people and women in your story, even if it's not historically accurate. If you don't, you'll get burned at the stake.
Most of those issues, I don't feel qualified to discuss. I grew up in DeKalb county, and I honestly don't think the black population grew too much higher than 53. There were two African immigrants (maybe from Ghana, I forget the country) who went to our church, and my good friend across the street was Hispanic. And that was about it. So I'm definitely not going to write a book where the main theme--or even subplot--deals with issues of race. At least not at this point in my life. It's just not an issue I have experience with.
What's your advice for putting people of color in books? Let me know in the comments below! God bless y'all, dear readers, and don't forget to review us on Amazon!
There are some things
That you can only do alone.
Like lying on your stomach in bed
Watching the sunset
Sudoku open in front of you
Your favorite music playing softly.
Like watching TV
Sitting in Dad's seat
Eating ice cream in the living room
Covered in a hand-crocheted blanket.
Like crocheting sunflower hot pads
While binging Buzzfeed Unsolved
Or watching Criminal Minds
Or listening to Weird Al parodies.
Like turning on your lamp before the sun rises
And opening your Bible
And conversing with the God of the universe
While snuggled in bed with your pillows.
There's a certain joy in loneliness.
But being alone is a form of art
That cannot be taught, only learned
And you will fail a time or two--
But don't worry, darling.
You'll learn. You'll learn. You'll learn.
Tell us your major,
And tell us your name.
(No one will remember,
All these posts look the same.)
Where do you live, kid,
And where are you from?
And what sort of person
Do you hope to become?
Do you have children?
Do you own dogs or cats?
What are your hobbies?
How do you relax?
And none of this matters,
We'll all soon forget.
Just don't post a detail
You'll come to regret.
What a week!
If you've been following my blog for the past week, you know what I've been up to. Well, part of it. I've also been installing hardwood floors with my dad. But a week ago today, I drove through four states to Iowa City, Iowa. And a week ago tomorrow, I met my biological mother.
Last week, I gave some backstory, and I'll give a few extra details by means of review. I was adopted as a newborn in an open adoption and, since I was twelve hours old, have been raised by the wonderful couple that I call my parents. I've known my whole life that I was adopted, and I've had some contact with my birth mother--email and Facebook messages, mostly.
And now? Honestly? I'm feeling every emotion known to mankind. I'm not really used to feeling things, so the past few days have been a little rough for me. But I'm...well, 'getting over it' isn't the term I'm looking for. But it's the closest thing I can find.
The visit itself was sort of typical. We talked a lot. I met my birth mother's four cats and wore her armor (I felt like Hiccup trying on Stoick's gear, for all of you How to Train Your Dragon fans) and we went out to various restaurants. We also went to an Amish grocery store and toured a bit of the college campus. The library was closed, unfortunately.
I also met my biological grandparents over Zoom. They're quite a bit younger than my adoptive grandparents--probably in their 60s or early 70s as opposed to 83 and 85--and rather nerdy. Just like my birth mother. Just like me.
I'm surprised at how alike my birth mother and I are. We're both word nerds with nearly the same Myers-Brigg personality type. We both read Ellis Peters' Cadfael Chronicles. We both like swords and cats and all things medieval. We both tend to keep people at arm's length until we know we can trust them, and we both like cats.
As for my biological father, Sam? I have an indescribable amount of apathy towards him. Complete and total disinterest. Especially after learning a few unsavory facts about his side of the family. I'm glad that the only things I inherited from him are intelligence, big hands, and a fast metabolism.
As far as Iowa goes...it's a nice state. The place is one giant farm with some woods near the southern border. And as far as our visit, it was pleasant. I hope to go back sometime, once I'm an adultier adult. And in the meantime, life goes on. I'm still a Piazza. Still a Texan. Still a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.
Let's try something different in the comments. Ask me anything. About my trip, my background as an adopted person, my books. Anything. And your questions, should you give permission, will end up in a future blog post. God bless you, dear readers, and good luck as school starts up!
It's strange, really. I never thought
Too much about what it would be like
Even though my daydreams were fraught
With similar situations.
Twelve hours and four states north I went
And in her driveway I paused nervously
Not knowing why two days I'd spent
Driving just to panic here.
And then she opened the purple door
Of the green house, and I ran
Into arms that held me once before
But I'd long since forgotten.
It was just that hug. Just that.
And then upstairs I was brought
To see the house and pet the cat
And talk about books.
It was almost like meeting an aunt
You'd never seen before at a wedding
And realizing later that you can't
Bear to part with her.
But part we did, on Saturday
And that parting embrace and "I love you"
My mind has often replayed
But why I can't imagine.
Good morning, dear readers!
Every once in a while, when I know I'm going to be very busy on a Thursday, I'll write a post beforehand and schedule its release. Since my life is fairly boring, this doesn't happen often. However, today is one of those busy days. I'm probably halfway through Oklahoma right about now, traveling north on my way to Iowa.
What's in Iowa, you ask?
Corn. Lots of corn. Also soybeans and sunflowers. Or so I've heard. Oh, and also my biological mother.
One thing that you might have picked up in Where the Clouds Catch Fire and Where I Stand is the theme of family. In the first book, Alynn and Lukas come to see each other as father and daughter. Alynn's reunited with her long-lost mother. In Where I Stand, Alynn works through some daddy issues and gets her little brother back. As a foundling, Lukas spends some time puzzling over what it's like being part of a real family. I like to think that he comes to figure it out.
What you might not have known, though, is that I have a very personal reason for putting these things in my books.
Back in the spring semester of 2000, a couple of college students forgot to use birth control. A friend of a friend of the girl's parents were struggling with infertility. I was born during Finals Week, my parents met me twelve hours later, and I can now win every game of "Never Have I Ever" by saying, "Never have I ever met a biological relative."
As an adopted person, I have a few...peculiarities. I'm extremely clingy. Not in a "you-can't-go-to-the-store-without-me" way, but in a "I-can't-function-without-hugs" way. I also have a hard time feeling like I fit in with social groups, although being homeschooled for ten years and/or suffering from a phobia for half a decade might play into that. But there are plenty of non-adopted people who are way more messed up than I am, so I consider myself (relatively) normal.
Anyway, you probably have some questions. Why have I never mentioned being adopted on my blog before? It's not really that important. Do I plan on adopting when I'm older? I don't know, I'd really like to have my own. Am I excited about meeting my mom? First off, she's not my mom, she's my birthmother. And second off--you know that feeling that's somewhere between excitement and terror? That's what I'm feeling right now.
So I bid a hearty farewell to my chances of winning "Never Have I Ever," and a hearty hello to my native Iowa. I'm on the trip of a lifetime.
Any other questions you have for me--about being adopted, my trip, or otherwise--ask in the comments, and I'll try to get back to you. It might not be until Monday or so, though. God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
"Good evening, folks! We are in for an exciting time tonight as M.J. Piazza is opening her Microsoft Word document for the first time in weeks."
"You know, Tim, in almost a decade of writing, it's been really rare for her to take so much time off. COVID-19 has really negatively affected her creative flow."
"And she's not the only one, Charley. Have you been on Instagram recently? It's been a regular mess over in the comic section. Alright, here she goes. The Word document is loaded, and she's off to Chapter Three."
"And now for the first word...oh, don't tell me, Tim. What's the hold-up?"
"It looks like she's picking up her phone, right at the get-go here, this could be a deadly mistake...but oh, it looks like we're in luck. She's opened the YouTube Music app. She's picking out a playlist as we speak."
"What's your take on the music?"
"Well, Charley, it's actually a pretty common anti-distraction tactic. M.J. here has taken it to another level, though, by typically only listening to music that's not in English! How many languages are represented in this playlist that she's opening right now?"
"Hard to say, Tim. You've got your instrumentals, of course, and quite a few of the songs are in Gaelic, actually. Then we've got some in Latin, one in Hebrew--alright, she's picked a song manually to start off with, and it's in French."
"Sounds like she's starting off with a classic. 'La Chanson de Mardi Gras,' sung by none other than Hozier before his solo days. And she is turning her attention back to the Word document, and she is writing...no, wait, she's deleting."
"Bold tactic here."
"You know, Charley, sometimes the creative juices just can't pick up where they left off."
"I know that's right, Tim. Looks like she's only deleting about half a paragraph. Mostly dialogue."
"Alright, and she's starting the dialogue fresh. Who's talking?"
"Caitriona, I think. M.J. hasn't used a dialogue tag in a while, though, so it's a little hard to tell. And we've got the first word of the day--oh wow, looks like a full sentence. 'I didn't mean it like htat.'"
"Type-o time. She's fixed it."
"So much for the hot pen method, Tim."
"You know, Charley, she's never liked that method much. Sometimes her fingers go in the wrong order on the keyboard. You remember that classic blunder back in '17, she typed 'vafroite' instead of 'favorite.'"
"She was sleep-deprived at that point, I thought--and she's off again--look at those fingers flying, Tim. Nothing like it. She's got a whole 'nother sentence out already."
"'Alynn made herself smile as she clutched Elsie tighter to her chest.' What emotion is being conveyed here! What depth of--"
"Oh no, what's this?"
"Bad news, Charlie. M.J.'s getting called downstairs to feed the dog. This has happened before, and it normally destroys her train of thought. Will she or won't she leave the keyboard--"
"Oh, she's left! Two sentences, eighteen words, not even one song finished on her playlist. What a disappointing turn of events, Tim!"
"Oh, don't worry, Charley. She'll come back. She always does. Tune in next time to see if Chapter Three ever gets finished."
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.