In light of #InternationalWomensDay and #WomensHIstoryMonth, for todays thoughts, let's once again celebrate an amazing woman of color...in science!
Today I invited IAPWE writer (published in the Journal of Neuroscience and amazing woman in her own right), Haley Kynefin to share the research of Timnit Gebru, recent presenter at the NIPS (Neural Information Processing Systems) conference and founder of Black in AI, helping to increase diversity in the field.
Artificial Intelligence Research Specialist Timnit Gebru
by Haley Kynefin
Timnit Gebru is best known for her groundbreaking doctorate work at Stanford, analyzing over fifty million Google street view images to predict demographics and voting habits.
But as a pioneering black woman at the forefront of her field, she is also an inspiring leader in the fight for technological fairness and diversity. Originally from Ethiopia, she arrived in the US at the age of 16. After her studies at Stanford she started working with Microsoft as part of their FATE team (Fairness, Accountability, Transparency and Ethics in AI). She is also one of the founders of the group Black in AI, which attempts to increase connectivity between and visibility for black researchers in the field of artificial intelligence.
“I went to NIPS(Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems),” she says, in an interview with Technology Review, “and someone was saying there were an estimated 8,500 people. I counted six black people. I was literally panicking [...] that is almost zero percent. I was like ‘We have to do something now.’ [...] Because it is an emergency.”
Discrimination in the field of AI comes in multiple forms. For one thing - as Gebru noticed that year at NIPS - the employment landscape in AI research lacks diversity. “It’s important for me to interface with someone that has [a certain type of] domain knowledge,” she says, talking about employing a diversity of backgrounds when embarking on research questions, “in order to know about [the] biases [in that domain].”
For another thing, training datasets for machine learning algorithms are usually biased. A well-known study by ProPublica, for example, analyzed a machine learning algorithm called COMPAS, which aims to predict crime recidivism rates, and found that it was biased against blacks. This is an obvious problem.
Gebru’s current research aims to uncover some of these algorithmic biases existing in commercial APIs (application program interfaces). APIs are important for providing routines and protocols through which software components interact. She envisions that they can be sold to customers with “datasheets” included, outlining some of the pitfalls inherent in their datasets.
This is called “unbiasing”, “debiasing”, or “bias mitigation”. In her latest paper, working alongside Joy Buolamwini, she analyzed 3 commercial gender classification APIs, finding that they performed the worst on dark female faces, and the best on light male faces.
Critically, though, Gebru realizes that technical algorithmic bias and field diversity are not separate problems - they are one and the same. “These issues of bias and diversity go hand in hand,” she comments, in an episode of the Google Cloud Platform Podcast. “Sometimes I get kind of frustrated when we only talk about the technical aspects [...] if you have an all-male panel on AI for Ethics or AI for Social Good or something like this, I have very little faith that this is actually AI for social good [...] it’s not just like, [...] creating the next coolest fairness algorithm.”
You can find Gebru’s research by following Black in AI on Facebook or Twitter, or join the discussion through their Google Group by signing up here.
1. What inspired you to write ‘Seas Come Still’
It’s an accidental novel, really. It started out as a compendium of historical research on the links between Minoan feminine spirituality, Hermetic history, and what we think we know about paganism. I realized after several years that I lacked the academic credentials to publish it as historical non-fiction. So I created a storyline and characters to convey the ideas for me. That’s when the real fun started. I could fill in historical blanks with my imagination and best guesses; take risks that can only be forgiven a novelist with narrative license. This included a re-invention of the Minoan language, about which we still know very little. It’s best read with your Google machine open, as there is at least some plausible factual basis for pretty much everything in the book. But I also fell in love (or hate, or both) with many of the characters.
2. What drew you to mix Historical Romance with Magic Realism?
Wow, great question! To me they seem inextricably linked. (Thinks a while). You may be hitting on the heart of the matter here! I’ve felt like these women, throughout history the ones (mostly falsely) called witches, were feared not only for their perceived power and independence, but also for their sexuality. The book tries to strip them of shamanistic myth and patriarchal polemic, and take an intimate and often very passionate look at the real magic that remains. So I’ll answer by once more hiding behind my characters. Selkie Singer says “true magic is neither pure nor perfect, and arises only when divinity meets passion.”
3. What are your thoughts on how LGBTQ+ characters are portrayed in major novels and film? Do you feel improvements could be made?
Definitely improvements can be made. I think there are fundamental, generational sea changes in LGBTQ voice and character indices. But many stereotypes of the past are still incorporated in modern literature and media, innocently or not. The spectrum of queer expression has expanded at the same time that the acceptance—and more importantly the self-acceptance—of the millennial community have grown. Look at the decline in the number of “gay bars,” as the community feels perhaps less wanting of social privacy, and are demanding a broader range of safe space. That said, the latest mode of LGBTQ expression is anger, and rightly so, given the potential 180 degree turn we are facing in government policy here and globally.
Of course writing historical LGBTQ characters is particularly challenging. There will always be significant differences in expression across time and culture. The novel runs from the Bronze Age Mediterranean, which was likely not only indifferent but in many cases exploitative of alternative sexuality, to Georgian English naval society, in which my characters have to hide their preferences under literal pain of death. Tragically, sexual injustice and predation seem the only constant. I take a fairly matter-of-fact approach to my LGBTQ characters. Their lives are authentic and subjectively valid, without the necessity of explanatory narrative and regardless of how others may view them. In some cases, as with the transgender experience, I try to bring it home to the reader though living metaphor rather than direct description. Hope that’s not too vague, but want to avoid spoilers. J
4. What do you do to get into the mindset of characters that don’t necessarily posses your qualities, so much so that you can write their voice?
Writing dialog turned out for me to be the most unexpectedly fulfilling aspect of the novelist’s journey. As a native New Yorker, I’ve grown up amidst one of the richest hodgepodges of dialects and cultural voices in the world. New Yorkers are proudly accepting of diversity, yet at the same time very intense in their emotional judgment and reaction set. But for me, this was just the brush and pallet. It had to be combined with deep introspection. Many of my characters are based on family members, friends, etc. But to avoid making characters into caricatures, the writer needs to meet these people again in her own mind, apply empathy and love, even for antagonists, and inhabit their deeper motives, fears and dreams. I’m not sure—in the end maybe we discover, like the Buddha did, that everyone we meet is really ourselves. The art may lie in making the reader reach the same conclusion.
5. When reading a book, does the gender, preference or ethnicity of the author impact the voice you assign to the novel in your head?
It shouldn’t right? But it does, at least at first. This is one of the reasons why I much prefer knowing little about an author until I’ve read something she wrote. I think the devotion of the novelist is that of interpreter. To convey the voice, character and experiences of others to those who have not lived them. But if you confine that gift only to your own experiences and worldview, then you are writing memoir, not fiction, in my opinion. Maybe you could say that it has to start with humanistic tourism. Get into people. People as different from yourself as possible. Breathe with them, weep with them, share their values but also learn to get their joke. And then, if they have conveyed something compelling to you, bear it artfully to your readers. Hope that makes sense.
6. What are you currently reading and why did you pick it up?
The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80. Edited by Ian S. MacNiven. I love historical correspondence, which I think may show in my epistolary writing style. I picked it up wandering though an out-of-print bookstore. Durrell is a big influencer for me. Also there are two naked guys on the cover.
7. What do you do outside of writing awesome novels?
For fun I read and review books, especially history and historical fiction, cook, sail and sing, sometimes simultaneously. Predictable results. I love Pilates, and walking as far as possible in our big city.
8. What’s next for J.P. Jamin?
My current novel project is The Clip of a Galloping Goddess, which I hope will come out this year depending on how much of my editor’s abuse I can take without losing the will to live. It another historical novel, set in 18th century colonial America, and traces the sometimes bizarre experiences of Prince Dimitri Gallitzin, a ghost hunter and missionary. It has character and narrative ties to The Seas Come Still, but I’m not sure I’d totally call it a sequel. If you like, it shows the much, much darker side of the Minoan witches. J
What is 'Reverse Harem' and how can young female readers find empowerment in the Reverse Harem genre?
Reverse Harem (RH) is one woman being with multiple men (a minimum of three at least). With many of the new Reverse Harem series that are releasing (and what I myself write) is to show that women are strong, powerful and don’t always need protection from a man (or men).
It seems to some people, especially in the RH genre, they believe that when a woman is in a relationship with multiple men, she’s a slave or submissive. In RH, that isn’t the case. It's a relationship, the same way with just one single individual. I find in RH, the main woman is amazing in just balancing herself among her men. Some RH have up to nine men, so you can see how hard it may be to juggle.
Regardless, female readers should read and see that it's okay to love and that with love comes challenges--some that will be harder than others--but with those challenges the love or lovers in your life will help you overcome them.
1. What inspired you to write science fiction and the Human of Utah series specifically?
My major inspiration growing up was Bungie’s Halo videogame series in terms of science fiction influences. I was inspired to write Lia’s story as a means of challenging the demons of my own mental illness, (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychosis, and Attention Deficit Disorder) by creating a woman stronger than all of them. My goal was also to pay homage to women like my mother, whose strength during my turbulent childhood was one of many influences for Lia’s character.
2. Do you avoid or embrace Sci Fi tropes and why?
I do neither explicitly. I just write what I enjoy, and if that happens to avoid, subvert or embrace a trope of my genre I’m fine with that.
3. As a male writer, do you find it difficult to write a female voice?
No. My motto is to write a strong character first, then consider gender. I grew up almost exclusively around females and avoided males so I’m conditioned more towards the feminine perspective. You could say I was a feminist for most of my life. I knew Lia would end up being female subconsciously because I always believed women were stronger than men in terms of character, and one of my goals was to create a character I could believe in.
4. Have your experiences with Cerebral Palsy influenced your writing? How?
Yes. From the age of five for ten years I was abused by a step father largely due to my disability, or at very least it gave him more reasons to be mad. I think due to those experiences that also helped inform my mental illnesses, (which in turn inspired elements in my books) I became a natural at writing graphic violence.
5. There aren’t many physically disabled heroes in books and media, nor are there many notable disabled actors, authors and artists. Why is this and how can it be remedied?
The easiest yet most impactful answer is to simply create more characters that happen to be disabled. I emphasize ‘happen’ because it’s imperative to create a character first or one will end up with an empty pandering attempt that anyone can see through. For example I see taking established characters and swapping their genders, (excluding a passing of the torch etc. I mean the literal character. i.e. making Thor a woman.) as pandering, even if unintentional.
A good example of a strong disabled character is Oracle from Batman. Spoilers: Joker shoots Batgirl, she ends up paralyzed, and rather than give up she becomes Oracle – legendary technical expert and the Brain leading Batman at times. That was a great way of giving a character great adversity and showing them overcome it for themselves.
Disability and its effects can vary from person to person providing individual challenges and stigma that may make an actor or individual unfit for certain roles. Though there’s no reason with modern, or even fantasy technology, that a character can’t overcome and find their own path to heroics/success in their stories/lives. I argue there are many qualified disabled authors, actors etc. We just don’t know about them. For every famous writer, i.e. Stephen Hawking, or famous actor i.e Peter Dinklage, there are hundreds of those who either simply haven’t published, haven’t been noticed, or haven’t the technology/opportunity to translate their imaginations to their preferred mediums. The easiest way to remedy this is to continue evolving, as technology, and society are, to ensure that gradually more doors of opportunity will open. The more disability is featured overcoming adversity the less negative stigma there will be around it and more opportunies for unknown artists will arise as a result.
6. Which do you enjoy more, old school Sci Fi, or modern Sci Fi?
Modern sci-fi circa 2000’s
7. If you woke up one morning and everything you’d known had disappeared, what one thing would you want to have remained with you?
My life experiences, resulting disabilities and all. Without them I wouldn’t be who I am and I’ve no interest in trying to be someone else. Being myself is challenge enough.
8. How can an author cope with feeling their story deserves to be heard, but fearing criticism?
Consider criticism the adversity one will inevitably face, and welcome it. I’ve been told many negative things in my life, but I write and publish for me and me alone. Criticism can’t stop me anymore and it can’t hurt my work because my work is the best I can do, which is stronger than any negativity.
9. What’s next for Greg Ramsay?
I hope to see Lia’s story adapted into a movie and/or video game someday. In the meantime, I’ll keep on writing the kind of stories I think are cool.
1. What inspired you to write Songs of Insurrection specifically?
Specifically? There’s a sordid, convoluted story behind it. Basically, I wrote what would become Book 3 of the Dragon Songs Saga first. However, my crit partners connected more with the secondary characters than the main character, Kaiya. I decided to write a prequel, to try make her more relatable; and then I wrote the sequel. In the meantime, I was querying Orchestra of Treacheries (originally Book 1, now Book 2), and agents were telling me the jump in time from chapters 1 to 2 to 3 were too jolting. At that time, I was critting one of Pam Godwin’s Dark Erotica thrillers, and immediately felt connected to a main character who I wouldn’t normally be interested in, and saw how the author used tension. With that in mind, I stripped out the first two chapters of Orchestra of Treacheries, and bookended a story between them.
2. What inspired you to write Fantasy and Science Fiction?
I read a lot of fantasy as a kid, and used to play Dungeons and Dragons. The Dragonlance Chronicles made me want to write.
3. Does your heritage influence your writing, and if so how?
All that fantasy I read as a kid featured mostly Caucasian characters, and if a PoC did appear, it was most likely to be a villain. At that age, growing up in the South, and very much in denial of my identity, I didn’t think twice about it. It wasn’t until college that I became something of a Born-Again-Asian. Even though my militancy had since moderated by the time I started writing, I wanted to begin with an Asian-themed story.
4. A good amount of popular Science Fiction and Fantasy novels and movies do not feature minorities leads, especially Asian. Why is this and how can it be remedied?
I think it is a reflection of the market. So much classic fantasy are set in a medieval pseudo-Europe, and that has set the standard for the trope. I would hazard to guess that most SFF readers are Caucasian, and perhaps the publishing companies assume they want to read about that classical setting.
As a member of many online SFF groups, I can tell you that is NOT the case. While there are certainly readers who fall back on classic tropes, many more are clamoring for something new, something different; and if mainstream publishers aren’t willing to take that risk, Small Press and Indies sure are. It’s just a matter of showing to diehard readers that the quality can be just as good as a traditionally published book. Contests like Mark Lawrence’s SPFBO are a great way.
5. When reading a book, does the gender or ethnicity of the author impact the voice you assign the novel in your head?
Not really. Actually, one of my biggest complaints with the movie versions of my old favorites, The Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings, is that they totally ruined the voices and faces my own imagination had come up with!
6. What advice would you give your younger writer self?
7. Tell us more about your Chinese Medicine practice and your Martial Arts!
I always wanted to learn martial arts because of Bruce Lee in the 70s and Ninjas in the 80s. I specifically wanted to learn Wing Chun because of its connection to Bruce Lee, but I didn’t have a chance until moving to Taiwan in the 1990s. I was fortunate to have found an awesome Sifu in Lo Man Kam, the nephew of Bruce Lee’s Sifu, Ip Man. While I was training there, one of my Kung-Fu brothers introduced me to his acupuncture master, Dr. Betty Long, and I started apprenticing under her. The cool thing about learning these things is that I can put them into my writing!
8. What’s next for JC Kang?
The Dragon Songs Saga is complete at four books, but there are two other series in the same world that intersect with it. I am chronologically following a popular secondary character from the first series, the half-elf/half-Asian ninja Jie.
I’m almost done with the second revision of Masters of Deception, Book 1 of Series 2. It takes place in my world’s version of Renaissance Italy. In addition to Jie, it also features an “Italian” con-man Diviner; an “Ethiopian” Sorceress looking to restore her clan’s honor; and an “East Indian” “Jedi” apprentice who struggles with the ideals of his order and his personal desires.
Book 1 of Series 3 is a conflict between the Chosen people of the Sun God, and the descendants of said God’s mortal son. The first draft is done; and I started writing a prequel to all three series, about a one-eyed fisherman who acquires a glass eye possessed by a demon.
1. What inspired you to write Earth to Centauri?
I am a bit of a tech and sci-fi nerd. The story of what an actual first contact with an alien race was ganging around in my head for some time and I just thought I’d give it a try. The spicing up happened much later as I started writing.
2. What inspired you to write Science Fiction?
I am a bit of a tech and sci-fi nerd. Guess that’s also because I am an engineer and love to tinker around with stuff. I’m a huge star trek fan and I think that’s where my inspiration comes from.
3. As a male writer, do you find it difficult to write from a female prospective?
I do find it difficult and even now I am not sure I am doing justice to the character. Guess I’ll have to keep writing and learning and trying to incorporate as much as I can to build the characters. Being surrounded by two daughters and a wife at home does give me a little bit of a perspective.
4. Though there are many Indian authors, not many embark upon science fiction. Why is this and how can it be remedied?
I think there is much more focus on historical fiction in India at the moment and there are plenty of excellent books out by some great people. The lack of focus on SciFi may be a result of the Indian belief in faith and destiny. As such I believe SciFi has always been western centric. Its difficult to break into the genre for an Indian author even though India has had some of the greatest scientific minds. I am translating y book into Hindi the predominant Indian language – getting it across to the mainstream in a language they understand will be key to breaking the barrier.
5. When reading a book, does the gender or ethnicity of the author impact the voice you assign the novel in your head?
It should but this has been difficult for me to accomplish. Having travelled to many countries I understand little bit of how people speak but getting in a different gender or ethnicity is very very difficult without making them a stereotype.
6. What are you currently reading, and why did you pick it up?
I am reading Retrieval by Regina Clarke to give her a feedback. In the name of God by Ravi Subramanian to get a feel of Indian writing styles and also The Long Walk by Stephen King to get a feel for pace and dialogue.
7. How can an author cope with feeling their story deserves to be heard, but fearing criticism?
Oh. You’ve hit a raw nerve. I’ve recently got some review stating my grammar is bad. Honestly it hurt. It took me a few days to get over the criticism and find another editor to help me.
Besides, I always feel, what if someone says the story line is awful? Fortunately this has not happened so far.
There is always hope that I will be able to find my own sweet set of readers who like my stories and my style and I have been fortunate to find a few whole have actually loved it.
8. What else do you do outside of writing, and how do you maintain the balance?
I hold a full time job which requires 6 days working and a while lot of travel. I try squeezing in time whenever I can – on the plane, in the hotel. Mostly I use travel to keep making the story in my head. It does mean a whole lot of late nights.
Balancing work, family and writing is very difficult.
9. What’s next for Kumar L?
The translation for Book 1 has just been released. I am finishing off Book 2 of the series and focusing on marketing. Ideas for Book 3 and 4 are forming up at the same time!
1. What inspired you to write The Children of Clay series?
There’s a scene in the bible where God is speaking with a prophet, Jeremiah. God tells Jeremiah to visit a potter and observe him. What Jeremiah notices is that the potter has exacting standards and any clay pot that did not meet his standards, he destroyed. God then compared himself to the potter, willing to destroy any of his people that exhibited unacceptable imperfections.
This episode always fascinated me and I wondered, “What if the clay pots could speak? How would they defend or advocate for themselves?” I imagined that they would argue that their value lay not in the clay but in what they could carry or contain.
And so I imagined a god who was so transcendent that she cared little for humans but also that she was very fascinated by these beings who mattered little in the grand scheme of things. And the overall arc of the story is a struggle between Ryna, the transcendent god and her counterpart, the demiurge, pure matter, who is presently manifested as Queen Nouei. It is Nouei’s self-imposed task, as the lesser god, to convince Ryna that there is value in the children of clay.
The story takes place in different times: a dystopian world, seven-thousand years into the future, in the present contemporary world, and in a set of parallel worlds. So while it is, overall, a fantasy/supernatural story, it is rooted in current science and politics.
Icon of Clay, the third book in the series continues the story of a woman, Bridget Blade, is a reincarnation of a god, and gets caught up in international intrigue as she struggles to sort out her identity and put her life back together.
2. What inspired you to write Fantasy?
I write science fantasy which means that I can weave science elements into a fantasy context. I like fantasy because of the near total freedom to create and fashion a world of your choosing. Although the challenge is to not make the world so foreign that people can’t relate to it.
The Children of Clay series is contemporary fantasy. So the fantasy elements have to work in a restricted context of science and politics. I enjoy that because you have to think carefully when developing the connective tissue that merges a supernatural/fantasy world with a contemporary society.
3. Does your heritage influence your writing, and if so how?
My heritage is Nigerian-American. I find that Africans live in a world that easily blends the traditional with the technological. The supernatural and the scientific coexist comfortably for Africans. So it is very natural for me to bring science and fantasy together without feeling like such a move needs to be justified.
In The Children of Clay there are a series of parallel worlds, same people, but different probability configurations. This means that the same set of people act differently in different worlds. This gives me the flexibility to write situations that don’t have to be so logically binary and in which I can bring together fantasy and science. So, for instance, in The Clay Queen, we meet the people of a world of zero-probability and someone from the complement world, a world of 100% probability. In both worlds, science would and does coexist with the supernatural very easily, far more easily than in a world of … 50-50 probability configurations.
This gives me the flexibility to create a world that I am comfortable with, in that it doesn’t have to be so logical and binary in the way that the culture imposes on us.
4. As a male writer, do you find it difficult to write from a female prospective?
I never assume I understand the female perspective by default, so I primarily work on creating a three-dimensional character. I try to listen and study how women approach things and see if I need to modify the perspective of my characters. I also pay attention to the reactions of my critique partners. Ultimately, if my readers can buy into the humanity of the character, then I feel like I’ve succeeded, even if I fall short on certain aspects of characterization.
I should note that The Children of Clay series features female leads but the very first initial drafts didn’t. Nouei, who is the anchor of the series, was an absent character in a dystopian future. She was a Queen whose presence consisted in her being referred to by her husband who had killed her father. But I was so intrigued by her that I felt I need to develop her character because she had so much more to say. She did. She took over the entire series.
Bridget, who is the reincarnation of Queen Nouei, was similar in the very initial drafts. She was a tertiary character and the main characters were all male. But she had powers and abilities and a presence I needed to explain and eventually the story only fit when I came to realize that Nouei and Bridget were the same person and the series became about them.
So in that sense, I never consciously set out to write female leads, they emerged organically. So my goal has always been to strive to be true the character and in doing so, I hope I reflect authentic women.
5. There are not as many black science fiction and fantasy authors and filmmakers in comparison. Why is this and how can it be remedied?
This is true. In general, it’s going to be a slow process of encouraging more black science fiction and fantasy authors to take the plunge. But it is encouraging that there are black authors currently making waves. That can’t be discounted.
I think conscious steps can be taken all through the process of production in both film and books, to embrace diversity. I think the more people are used to seeing blacks in films on and behind the screen, or in the book production process, the more audiences embrace that.
In science fiction and fantasy, my experience is that characters are white by default unless specified. In my books, I don’t identify my characters as black unless there’s a reason to. The four main characters are black and sometimes when people find out later in the respective stories, they are surprised.
6. What are your thoughts on how Africans are portrayed in popular media?
Yeah, as an African, I tend to notice Africans in popular media. I can’t say that I’m an expert here, but in casting my mind back to films I’ve watched, there are many positive roles and I choose to focus on them.
Chiwetel Ejiofor in 2012 and Serenity; John Boyega in Star Wars and Pacific Rim; Djimon Honsou in any number of roles; Idris Elba in Pacific Rim; Freema Agyeman in Doctor Who; Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in a bunch roles; Fana Mokoena in World War Z; Rachel Luttrell in Stargate Atlantis.
I’ve mostly drawn from science fiction and some fantasy, but they jump out at me because they are positive representations of or by characters or actors of black African heritage.
I do get frustrated when Africans/African Americans get typecast into the mysterious or warrior race, e.g., Michael Dorn (Worf) and others as Klingons, and Christopher Judge (Teal’c) and others as the Jaffa. I’m not opposed to these roles, but it would be good to see a broader scope of representation such as in a show like Eureka.
Guinan in Star Trek Next Generation was played by Whoopi Goldberg but the character always felt very African to me. In fact, the most awesome episode, “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” was one in which the timeline had changed and only Guinan sensed it. She insisted to Picard that everything was wrong and that he needed to send an entire ship back through time to certain death.
Of course, Picard was torn, but based on not much else but his belief in Guinan, he sends the ship back in time and it corrects the timeline. At the end of the episode, again, only Guinan had a vague sense that something had been or could’ve been terribly wrong, but wasn’t. That’s the sort of science fiction I like, where often there are no real answers and one has to take a leap of faith based on trust in another person.
7. Is Western culture ready to embrace non-Western fantasy?
He smirks. I suppose we’ll see with Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death being optioned to HBO. I think people enjoy good productions. So if non-Western fantasy is done well and it doesn’t appear that anyone’s trying to make a political point of it, then it’s likely to do well. Western Culture has embraced a lot of Asian fantasy, but African fantasy is still an open question. It’s really an issue of quality, production values, and the audience getting used to it.
8. When reading a book, does the gender or ethnicity of the author impact the voice you assign the novel in your head?
It probably does, but I don’t tend to notice. I don’t like authors imposing a look or sound on the characters, especially when I’m into them and want to imagine them the way I want to. I think my writing is a little minimalist in that sense. I want to leave as much to my reader as possible.
9. What else do you do outside of writing, and how do you maintain the balance?
I like watching movies. I love sports: soccer, football, basketball, etc. I love jogging in the morning. I’m fortunate to live in a beach town and I jog to the beach as often as I can. Recently, my sister visited Connecticut from New York and was amazed at the clarity of the night sky. I realized then just how much I had taken the stars for granted. But I absolutely feel blessed that I can go jogging two or three times a week when it is still dark and see a night sky with sparkling stars laid out for me.
10. What’s next for Ono Ekeh?
The Children of Clay series is on its third book, Icon of Clay. There are about five more to go. It’s a story arc I have sat on for almost a decade and it is burning to come out. Most of it is written, but the cleaning up and editing process does take a while. This series is very theological and metaphysical. When it’s done, I have more lighthearted stories I want to explore. I might even venture into the world of vampires, but with more of a humorous take.
1. What inspired you to work in a technology?
I was inspired to work in technology, to use my creative skills to have an impact and design a better future. Growing up I was good at art and computers, but I never thought of myself as a technical person so I studied art. My original career path consisted of a day job at a hedge fund while painting in my free time. I spent my days frustrated with complex software applications, and when I began working in the venture capital arm of the fund, I noticed similar usability problems even in slick new mobile apps. That’s when I discovered the field of human-computer interaction and began working as a user experience (UX) designer, leveraging my artistic and technical capacities to design user interfaces. I now work as a UX researcher, which allows me to use my left brain to analyze how users interact with technology and my right brain to guide the design process.
2. What exactly is Mixed Reality, and what drove you to explore it?
Mixed Reality (MR) is a continuum of environments between the real world and the virtual world. There are various enabling technologies that can create an MR environment such as mobile devices, wearables, and displays embedded in the physical space. Many people are now familiar with the term augmented reality (AR) thanks to popular games such as Pokemon Go. AR fits within the broader range of MR environments, but the terms are often used interchangeably.
3. What are some benefits MR can bring to our society?
Rather than splitting our attention between digital devices and the physical world around us, MR enables a user to interact with both digital and physical objects together in context. This can make digital information readily available while continuing to operate in the real world. MR opens up opportunities for more natural and collaborative ways of interacting with computers.
4. Could exposure to MR have negative effects on the human biome (motion sickness, neurological footprints, dependence, agoraphobia or attention deficit)?
MR has been known to cause symptoms such as motion sickness, eye strain, and fatigue, but further research on long-term effects is needed. Some of the issues we have with digital experiences today could be heightened with MR, such as distracted attention and information overload. Agoraphobia is a possibility, imagine the equivalent of spammy banner ads or push notifications completely surrounding you.
5. How could MR change how humans interact and function as a society? Could MR completely replace real world interactions and experiences?
Just as mobile devices transformed our everyday lives by making computing power available anytime and anywhere, MR presents the next paradigm shift in how we interact. We will be able to navigate with directions overlaid on our field of view, meet someone and have facial recognition to search and display their information, and create and share 3D holograms. Instead of tapping a screen, we will interact using voice, gesture, gaze, and locomotion detected by cameras and sensors on our devices, bodies, and in our environment. This will prompt many changes in social norms, particularly around privacy.
The advantage of MR is that it allows humans to continue to interact in the real world while aided by digital tools. However, I do believe that the more immersive end of the MR continuum, such as virtual reality (VR), has the potential to replace real world experiences.
6. One of my favorite series, Black Mirror, talks about how advertisers can use AR and VR to collect volumes more personal information, interrupt experiences and pay-to-win syndromes. What are your thoughts on this?
Black Mirror is great at keeping a finger on the pulse of how technology and society might change in the near future. Advertisers will definitely be able to collect more personal information and interrupt experiences based on your location, direction of your gaze, etc. It’s hard to understand the value of something like privacy until it’s gone, and then people will be willing to pay for it.
7. There just aren’t enough women of color in science and technology. Why is this and what can we do to remedy it?
Unfortunately there are so many contributing factors to the lack of women of color in STEM fields. It starts early, with different societal expectations making girls internalize the message that they aren’t good at science and technology and not pursue this. But even if she pursues her studies in STEM, she then enters the field facing racist and sexist power structures that can stunt her career growth, to the extent that some women switch careers.
One way we can help remedy this is by changing who we picture when we think of an engineer, doctor, or innovator. By celebrating the achievements of women of color in these roles and having them represented in the media, we can inspire others and shift cultural attitudes.
8. When will Mixed Reality become reality? And where can one go to learn more and keep up on its progress?
A number of mobile apps, wearables, and digital displays in the built environment are making MR a reality today. But the technology is still evolving, and usability is a key factor in consumer adoption.
9. What’s next for Shannon Holloway?
I’m excited to continue to research, write, and speak about making technology user-friendly!
1. What inspired you to write urban fantasy and the Relentless series specifically?
I’ve always been a fan of urban fantasy so it felt natural to write in that genre. I got the initial idea for Relentless from a dream. I say initial because the final book was nothing like the dream.
2. Do you avoid or embrace Fantasy/Paranormal tropes and why?
I don’t necessarily avoid tropes, but I try not to be cliché. There are certain aspects of each genre that draw readers. You need to figure out how to write them in a fresh way.
3. Do reader comments and reviews about your storyline and characters effect your writing in subsequent books?
The only feedback I consider seriously is from beta readers and editor. Readers have such different tastes and you can’t write something to please them all. When you get a 5 star rave review, followed by a terrible 1 star review, which one do you believe? If you believe in what you’re writing, you can’t let strangers influence you.
4. As a woman writer, do you find it difficult to write a male voice?
I did at first. When I started writing Warrior, which is the trilogy in Nikolas’s POV, I struggled at first. By the end, we were like old friends. The next book was dual POV and I had no trouble writing the mail voice in that one.
5. What are your thoughts on how female leads are portrayed in current Science Fiction and Fantasy novels and films?
One of the reasons I like YA is because more and more authors are writing strong, independent female leads. Yes, there is usually a love interest, but the story is about her journey.
6. When reading a book, does the gender or ethnicity of the author impact the voice you assign the novel in your head?
Never. If a story is well-written, I don’t think about the author at all while I’m reading it.
7. What advice would you give your younger writer self?
Good question! I’d probably tell her to stop doubting herself and to write that damn book. I spent too many years comparing my writing to published works and that’s a huge mistake for any writer. No first draft looks as good as one that’s been through multiple drafts and professionally edited.
8. How can an author cope with feeling their story deserves to be heard, but fearing criticism?
I don’t know a single author who doesn’t have self-doubt when putting a new book out there. And even the greatest literary works have bad reviews. Look for them on Amazon and you’ll see what I mean. You will get negative reviews. But you’ll also get great reviews. You can’t dwell on reviews. It’s all a part of the business.
9. What’s next for Karen Lynch?
I’m current working on Fated, book 6 in the Relentless series, which will be released on Feb 13, 2018. After that, I have several projects planned. I need to decide which one comes next.
1. What inspired you to write Fantasy and this novel specifically?
I was always enthralled by big stories. Fantasy and science fiction stories (whether in video games, anime, movies, etc.) always feel fresh and unique. So, they’ve always been an influence. As far as this book goes, I remember feeling that there were ways that I could make the genre better. While I love the genre, there are a lot of straight white men running the show who shoot from the hip and deliver a lot of corny one-liners. I felt I could avoid certain tropes, introduce new types of characters you don’t usually see, and really hit you in the emotional gut. I know I did that for some, and I hope it’s a story even more can connect with.
2. In comparison, there are far fewer black authors in Fantasy and Sci Fi. Why is this and how can it be rectified?
I believe there are many more black authors in these genres than we realize, but that is the perception because of the way the traditional publishing industry works. While well-meaning, agents and publishers who say they’re looking for diverse stories may think your book is too “niche” to make any money, so they pass. You could make the argument that self-publishing helps bypass this, but it’s still very new. It doesn’t yet have the same level of prestige that traditional publishing has, so some authors chase the prestige. Those who do self-publish will find that it’s very expensive to hire an editor, cover designer, etc., and if they can’t afford it, they either put out sloppy work or avoid the process altogether. Then, there’s marketing your book which is a whole different set of dilemmas. I believe self-publishing is the way to go, but you have to do it right, which means educating yourself about what it takes to put out traditional publishing-level work and how to market it best to your audience. I think if more black authors do that, we will see a lot more fantasy and sci-fi from them.
3. What are your thoughts on how LGBTQ+ characters are portrayed in major novels and film?
Things are getting better, but we’re still mostly at a point where LGBTQ+ characters are either a stereotype or just not seen at all. Mainstream audiences are getting used to “the gay best friend” or the “token gay guy”. And in most instances, these are white cisgender male characters. I love some of the characters, but that hardly covers the broad spectrum of people who have yet to been seen at different intersections. What about the Black trans woman, the Asian bi man, or the Latinx lesbian? And why can’t they be important enough to have a full storyline other than coming out? As I said, things are getting better, but part of my goal in writing Pangaea was addressing this issue. Two of main characters are males who are Black and just happen to be gay - that’s not the sole focus of their character. I wanted to show that you can definitely create an epic tale with characters like these and get so into the story that sometimes you forget that’s what they are.
4. Characters in your story are non-black and non-LGBTQ+. What do you do to get into the mindset of these character, so much so that you can write their voice?
As a black man, I’ve been inundated with white culture with everything from classic Disney animated movies to the books and movies I read and watch today. I also grew up in neighborhoods and schools that had a white majority. The same can be said for me as a gay man with straight culture. So, I didn’t have to dig too deep to get the essence of my White characters. I just treated them as human beings with their own specific ways of being and had them react the way they would given the circumstances on the page. The same goes for my other characters of color. While I may not be well-educated in different cultures, these are still human beings who, based on their personalities, will react a certain way in any given scenario. It really wasn’t hard. It also helped that this was a fantasy world, so I didn’t have to research cultures so much - I just made up my own.
5. When reading a book, does the gender, preference or ethnicity of the author impact the voice you assign to the novel in your head?
The author doesn’t impact the voice I hear in my head. I pay most attention to the main character and get a feel for their voice based on things like dialogue, setting, and time period.
6. What are you currently reading and why did you pick it up?
Right now, I’m reading Make Every Man Want You by Marie Forleo. It’s non-fiction, I’m a fan of hers, and while it’s addressed to female readers, Forleo said it’s great book for guys too. So I gave it try and I have to say, it really is. It’s not about dating, it’s about being your best self and using that as a natural attractor to better partners and opportunities. I’m big on self-improvement, so I’ve read a lot of books like this over the past couple of years and put what I’ve learned into practice. Aside from that, the last fiction book I read was N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms . I wanted to see what another successful black fantasy author was doing and what I could learn. I enjoyed it very much!
7. How can an author cope with feeling their s tory deserves to be heard but fearing criticism?
I would first say to just complete that first draft. Nobody has to see anything, just get it done and get the story out of your system. Then, I would say, the best defense against criticism is making sure the book is edited to the best of your ability. Safeguard yourself against comments about grammar, story structure, cultural sensitivity, triggers, and more by getting beta readers to take a look and by hiring a professional editor. If you can survive your editor’s countless red marks and get a better version of your story, you’re on your way. (I couldn’t look at my editor’s notes for a month.) Lastly, take a good look at why you want to tell the story and be real sure about your conviction to share this story with the world. You’ve got a grow a thick skin, because even after all of that, you can’t please everybody.
8. What else do you do outside of writing, and how do you juggle life and writing?
Right now I work for a company doing search engine optimization, and I also host a live YouTube show that I recently renamed as LGBTr, which stands for Lots of Good Books To Read. In this show, I interview other Black LGBTQ authors. I juggle life and writing by making myself write every day after work or at least do something for the YouTube show or promotion. It’s tough, but I want to eventually work for myself, so I’m doing all that I can to make that happen.
9. What’s next for you on your writing journey?
I’m currently drafting a science fiction novel that I already know is going to be something special. I’m also looking ahead to continuing the Pangaea series with a collection of short stories as a prequel to the first book, and a continuation of the story with a direct sequel. I’m also doing my best to make my YouTube show more of a regular thing. I’ve got more that I want to do and I’m pretty optimistic about what the future holds.
What inspired you to write this novel?
My debut novel, as is often the case, was introspective, poetic, dreamy, and focused on human emotions rather than plot. It was a deeply personal work about generations of women in Ukraine that had taken me five years to complete. By the time I had finished, I had a burning inside me to write something that was different in every possible way. Thus – my main characters were an ego-driven man and a genderless alien. My locations were New York City, a distant planet and an after-life dimension. And my themes were – the meaning of life on Earth, the meaning of everything, how everything connects in the grand scale. I was at last able to release my writing in all the directions it hadn’t been allowed to travel while I was concentrating on my first book.
What drove you to write within the Science Fiction genre?
Science Fiction for the main part deals with the future, or with alternative realities. As someone who likes to think about the meaning of everything in our history and on our planet, it is really the only genre which gives a wide enough range for expressing philosophical, metaphysical or futuristic scenarios. I am a firm believer that what we are able to perceive as humans on Earth is a tiny proportion of what is in the universe, and I think that writers and artists have a very serious responsibility to be the ones to envision and suggest and project scenarios that could well turn out to be true, but which we cannot even test without the extrapolated possibility.
In comparison, there are far fewer female authors within Science Fiction. Why is this and how can it be remedied?
There are two main reasons for this. The most obvious is – that there are traditionally less women in science, and it has been considered a man’s field. Thus, as women over the centuries found their voices in literature, they chose subjects where they were strong, such as everyday details and relationships, rather than subjects where they were unequal in knowledge.
However, I think this is being overturned already – first of all by women rising in Science and Maths, and being loud about their contributions. The recent movie “Hidden Figures” was a great example of this shift. And check out Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski and if you have any doubt as to whether women are going to continue keeping quiet about their part in scientific progress. It won’t be long before women writers are taking on the hard science areas of science fiction – and I can’t wait for it to happen. In fact, I might petition Gonzalez Pasterski to start the trend! However, there are plenty of areas of Science Fiction where you don’t need hard science. Ursula Le Guin is of course the queen of Sci-Fi women writers, but she is too often used as the stand-out. Margaret Atwood writes on the edge of Sci-Fi, and we have for a female classic Madeleine L’Engle. And there are many female writers now forging careers and feeling free and empowered to do so.
I believe the way to remedy this is for the women who are writing in this genre to be bold and loud and promote themselves and support each other. Make sure that the world knows that they are present and writing and part of the conversation. It is time to change the story – and this is both our specialty – and our profound responsibility.
What are your thoughts on how women are portrayed in Science Fiction novels and films?
The portrayal of women in films is extremely frustrating. 90% of the time, even if the women have a major part, it feels like pornography. I always do an experiment for myself just to test my paranoia level – I imagine the men in the films dressed equivalent to the women and the women dressed equivalent to the men. Of course, this would mean men in tight, flimsy costumes showing large amounts of flesh, and women in perfectly normal clothes. Then I get angry again. It is something that simply has to change, otherwise women will continue to be viewed only in relation to men, and never in their own right.
With regard to books, it is less easy to write great literature nowadays without developed female characters, and so it is rare for me to notice overt sexism in serious modern science-fiction. However, I would like to see much more writing from a future perspective, looking back on “the ages of inequality.” I feel we need as many books as possible establishing the current model as obsolete before we can truly leave it behind.
In light of women coming forward, in Hollywood and around the globe, rebuking the “boy’s club” mentality, do you think we will begin to see a change in the way women are portrayed or treated in the media?
I think with regards to Hollywood, that it will be extremely slow, and will only happen when women control the money and the ultimate decisions – and we are a very long way from that point. Until then, it will be microsteps, most likely empty gestures disguised as progress, such as powerful female characters who are still dressed like porn stars and have stereotypical bodies. The real progress will most likely come from small productions upwards, for example, Britt Marling’s excellent OA. And for her own brush with Hollywood sexism, here is an excellent piece by her:
When reading a book, does the gender or ethnicity of the author impact the voice you assign the novel in your head?
The ethnicity of a writer has no impact on my reading of a character, however the gender of a writer can influence this, as I am always fascinated at how accurately women write deep, complex male characters, and visa versa. I am always impressed when writers truly capture someone of a different gender, and I seek to learn techniques from them. I equally enjoy writing male and female characters, and I even have a genderless character in my novel, so it is something I follow closely.
What are you currently reading and why did you pick it up?
I’m reading We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Russian / Soviet Science Fiction is a gap in my reading that I’m trying to fill. I lived in Ukraine for ten years and gathered a list of “must-read” books from my friends and this was at the top of it. I’m also particularly interested in the Russian view on Sci-Fi as I have read some British/American ones and recently Chinese (Ken Liu led me to Liu Cixin) and I am now interested in more world perspectives.
What are some good writing habits you’ve discovered?
I have written in very different circumstances, so I am aware that each writer struggles to find time and discipline in their own way. I have written with no time or financial pressures. I have written to a launch deadline. I have written with 2 children and a crazy household going on around me.
The habits that have stuck with me are:
How can an author cope with feeling their story deserves to be heard, but fearing criticism?
This is simple: you have to be brave, brave, brave.The writer’s job is really extraordinary, in that every piece of work you want to earn money for, you have to put into the public where literally every person on Earth, now and into the foreseeable future, can judge you! It’s terrifying, horrific, and the bravest thing you will ever do in your life – especially the first time you publish.
My advice is – be ready with some statistics. Expect 70% positive reviews and 30% terrible reviews. Expect the press to be extremely harsh. Expect your mother to be extremely biased. This is a total cliché, but some readers will absolutely love your work and some will think it’s the worst thing ever written. My experience, over a year and a half: with overall 80% 5* reviews, I have received an e-mail from a reader telling me my novel was the best thing she had ever read and I am now her favorite writer. A couple of days later I had two 1* reviews saying it read like a first draft, and sounded like I had written it drunk.
This is what you get, especially with speculative fiction – some people are open to experimentation and love it; and some hate it when you go off template.
But at the end of the day, the only thing you really need is courage. And lots of it.
10. What else do you do outside of writing great books, and how do you juggle life and writing?
I struggle to balance everything in my life! I have 2 teenagers who demand a lot of time (in the most wonderful and exhausting way) and I also teach part time to maintain my income. I have to write and read a lot, of course, and when there are pockets in between this I run and travel, go dancing and spend time in Barcelona and New York, my favorite cities.
11. What’s next for you on your writing journey?
A lot more novels. I have now launched 2 novels and I very much hope that the process will get easier. Not the writing itself – as I will always challenge myself to the maximum in every piece of work – but the editing journey, which has to date taken months and years. I hope that my first drafts will get faster and better, and my editing skills sharper. And of course – that most wonderful gift at the end of the novel rainbow – the readership! I have been incredibly lucky to have dedicated readers and it will most certainly help the journey knowing that they will grow.
Hybrid Publishing is an emerging third option for authors uninterested or unable to either self-publish or trade publish. This method of publishing—also known as partnership publishing or copublishing—claims to foster the best of both the vanity and traditional, publishing paths. In actually, hybrid publishing generally encompasses everything in between, and thus means something slightly different to each publisher.
Some less adaptable to change dismiss hybrid publishing as a glorified vanity press, yet the option does rise above the pay-to-play fray in several ways. Here are some of the more prevalent attributes of a hybrid:
I took great interest in this realm of publishing, but was left wanting when searching for a listings page. So I decided I’d start one! Here is a small but growing list of hybrid publishers.
50+ Hybrid Publishers
* This list only includes those companies that self-proclaim (or has a published article referring to them) as a hybrid or partnership publisher. Also note that anything in quotes was taken directly from the website.
Okay, there you have it folks. If you’re considering hybrid publishing, be sure to submit to publishers who vet their submissions, who have distribution channels you could not obtain otherwise, and whose brand is more than a sales pitch.
If you know of any hybrid publishers not listed here, please let me know their name, link and possibly their distribution channels so I can add them to the list.
Unable to truly understand the concept of magicalrealism, I finally hunkered down and read "100 Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a hefty book that fellow authors couldn't believe I hadn't read yet.
Magical realism mixed with hints of poetic absurdism-we follow the fascinating, complex lives of the Buendia family through generations as they attempt to outwit preordained cyclical omens.
Starting from their Patriarch Jose Arcardio Buendia, the family assumes they are destined for greatness; however, they must overcome this stubborn ideology in order to obtain that greatness. The story is laden with beauty and sadness with its constant stream of bleak prose, yet the matter-of-fact-ness in tone keeps any tears at bay.
Refreshingly, the book is not one of the high-pressure sales SFF books we're inundated with today, as it was written in the 60s as a meta-assessment of Latin American history.
I'd been told it was a psychological thriller. Aware there'd been a movie yet unaware of the genre or content, only that it was a best-seller, I picked it up.
A not so perfect husband is accused of murdering his too perfect wife, or did she murder herself? or did she murder his 'self,' or had he murdered hers? The true crime suspense novel is full of intelligent riddles and just plain smart writing. I felt it started a little slow, and dragged in a spot or two, but when it picked up, it had me laughing, angry and anxious, frantic to get to the next page and find where the hell Flynn was taking us with this trip.
I give this novel 5-stars, dispite my utter infuriation with its twists and twistednesses. Definitely an intellectual mind-F that deserved to be movie-fied. I will be reading more Flynn.
I receive a healthy handful of private messages on Instagram and Twitter: mostly hellos, high-fives and how-do-yous. Every once in a while, I'll receive a thought provocation causing me to set down my phone to explore it with whoever is in earshot and willing to converse. I recently received such a question, and while typing out my response, I (through the very nature of the response) realized it was blog-worthy.
Do you ever feel like writing creatively is incredibly arrogant, and pointless when there's so much in the real world that's so powerful? I've been thinking about it a lot, and it's really an awkward thing trying to write fiction, because for me personally I have to take bold, calculated risks in the real world to get outside my own head.
Anyway, just wanted to say hi, and thanks!
Thanks for writing!
I thought about your notion - how writing creatively can be perceived as arrogant and pointless considering the density of real world experiences and our need of the real world in order to write creatively in the first place.
I find that creative writing, especially in the realm of science fiction, is incredibly un-pointless and has arguably been a hefty contributor to social evolution and scientific innovation. There are countless examples of real world technological advancements born from novels and creative arts: rockets, cellphones, helicopters, submarines, 2nd Life, right down to the very word Robot coined by a playwright in the 1920s.
Is creative writing arrogant? Yes. I'd say producing (a.k.a creating) anything is arrogant. Finding oneself worthy enough to contribute to society by taking their insides and pouring it forth in any fashion is arrogant: down to the hard truth that bearing children, though etched into our DNA and (again arguably) our purpose for existence, is arrogant. "Who are you to continue your line of genes?" a critic might ask acerbically. "What makes your traits so special?"
However; to lock oneself in a cave, attempting to avoid arrogance yet keeping all of one's creative potential to oneself, is also a selfish act. Moreover, to choose to deny oneself pleasures and external stimuli rings of self-absorption. The act of choosing on behalf of the self is, in and of itself, self...ish; and to choose not to choose is also a choice.
So if to do is arrogant, and to not do is arrogant, and if to resign oneself to suicide so as to avoid the dilemma is also arrogant, the real question is...what isn't arrogant?
Keep writing! :)
(also published on Women of Badassery)
Upon researching this topic, I found that most articles claimed that underrepresentation and misrepresentation of minorities run rampant due to the unshakable racisms of news and entertainment media. However, I believe that though this was certainly the case in the days of “Gone with the Wind,” there are too many other competing factors to extricate racism as the sole case in today’s society.
In practice, modern-day racism is arguably a subset of classism–privileges or hardships based on socio-economic status—classism having an all-encompassing impact on the ability for minorities to present themselves as much as (and in the way they’d) like to be portrayed in TV, film and literature. Though there is a definite positive mobility towards more prevalent and accurate depictions of alternative groups, most writers, creators and directors are of the Caucasian male persuasion, causing a fairly limited scope of experiences to draw from for creative inspiration and character development.
Why is this? Why is it that according to a 2014 UCLA study, almost 90% of directors, 92% of screenwriters and 90% of show creators for broadcast television are Caucasian? It certainly explains the results of a recent statistical comb-through done by USC’s Journalism School, which surveyed the top 600 grossing films over a span of five years up through 2013 and found that about 74% of all speaking character roles were Caucasian.
The truth is it’s more complicated than simple racism; it’s systemic. Most aspiring minority directors, writer, actors and creatives simply don’t make it to the point where their scripts, plays and readings could be denied, as many of their talents never make it to a bona fide arts class, let alone a pitch desk. Whether due to lack of exposure, education or economic freedom, their opportunity is lacking far before a publishing or production agency has the chance to provide a rejection based on race. And as the inspiring African American 2015 Emmy award winner Viola David said, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.”
With stiff competition in these fields, you are expected to have a degree, a portfolio, a resume of previous works, proof of expertise and a willingness to invest in writing a full edited book, an edited screenplay or filming a well-produced spec filmed. Acquiring said clout and creating said works takes a lot of time, effort and study before you can present yourself as an economically viable venture—and it all depends on one’s level of exposure to the professional arts and one’s economic situations.
Let’s first tackle exposure. A 2009 to 2014 Directors Guild of America study found that only 13% of directors who embarked upon their first assignment in episodic television within that time-frame were minorities. Are there a high proportion of minority students with arts degrees not finding work, or are there a significantly low number of students receiving arts degrees in the first place? According to a 2008 survey by National Endowment for the Arts, only 26% of African Americans and 28% of Hispanics age 18-24 reported receiving arts education of any kind, with 58% of Caucasians reporting having received arts education. Many minorities never realize they may have a talent for writing and director. Sulin Iyengar, Director of Research at the Endowment, stated that the shortage in arts education in schools is a big reason for the lack of arts exposure in minorities since schools are the most likely place for minority and underprivileged students to receive instruction in the arts.
But the most important point is that it simply makes very little economic sense to attempt a career in writing, film, or even music for a minority especially considering the current economic climate. You’ve got to have a means to support yourself or a supportive family while creating your works. If you or your family is more focused on becoming economically stable (building a savings, working three shifts, putting children through school), it leaves little free time to make creating a priority. According to Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) and Current Population Surveys (CPS) the unemployment rate of African Americans in major cities in 2014 hold a range of 10.2% to 13.67 with Hispanics at 6.02% to 10.53% and Caucasians at 3.75% to 5.29%. These statistics demonstrate that economic stability is a greater issue for minorities than Caucasians and this in turn may keep minorities from exploring artistic careers.
I myself did not grow up in a very privileged situation, but was given the opportunity at an early age to understand and appreciate the importance of art, writing, music and creative expression as a mode of communication—not only allowing me the freedom to write and release music (lachimusic.com), and to write and publish novels, but the wherewithal to create an artistic business in order to support my artistic habits and help contribute to the portrayal of cultural diversity in the creative world.
The media portrays who ‘it’ thinks we are, and we react to that, believing ‘it’ is setting our standard of behavior. However, if one would like the media to portray what he or she wants to see, he or she must be the one to pick up the pen and write the scene. I believe it begins at the adolescent level, exposing to underprivileged students the importance of the media—arts, music, film and literature—and its portrayals on our society as a whole but also on our personal interactions, prejudices and moralizations. If one could be exposed to how much power the wielders of media truly hold, and have an equal economic opportunity to pursue that power, I believe the tone of the conversation would change drastically.
Earlier this year I received a summons for Jury Duty. Being an over-the-top workaholic, my first response is to call the number provided on the summons and postpone my service date for six months. Lo and behold, six months later, I receive another summons like clockwork! I was in the middle of planning my book tour, so of course, I am caught off guard by it like any normal, self-absorbed millennial.
Though many have encouraged me to start blogging, I could never really find the impetus or catalyst to propel me to embark upon the habit...until now....until Jury duty. Not that my time of service in the NYC court system was particularly exciting, but it was certainly an experience, and I learned a lot about the system and about myself.
I rush to 111 Center Street by 8:30 the morning of my summons, and after hours in the TSA-style security lines and the DMV-style summons-checking waiting area, my service begins well after 10:30. We, the one hundred plus prospective jurors, sit in a main hall and listen to an African man tell us what to expect over the next two days. If you are not selected to the jury panel of a specific case in the two days, you are free to leave, your service complete. After another hour of checking my emails on the nonexistant wi-fi, I am called within the first batch of forty who will be briefed for possible selection within the first case.
The forty of us enter the courtroom, are quickly sworn in, and are introduced to the presiding judge. The first Supreme Court trial is against a young man for selling drugs to an undercover cop in close proximity to a high school. The judge acquaints us with the two sets of attorneys and the defendant, a young well-groomed black man who rises once introduced. He turns to his potential jurors and says something along the lines of, "Hello and good morning everyone. How's it going?" with a smile and a curt wave. This move is something I highly recommend to prospective defendants. I immediately acquit him in my mind. He asked me how my day was! He is a young, healthy black kid who smiled at me. I think 'Do the cops not have better things to do with their very talented undercover agents?'
The judge seems to want to hurry along the process and asks us to come to the front if we'd like to be excuse from selection. One woman stands up, is pregnant, and is excused. I can sense the african americans in the room itching to find an excuse to leave, not wanting to judge this man that could be their cousin, their brother, their son. Several people, including black people who were very evidently not Ethiopian, claim they are Jewish and must observe the upcoming Yom Kippur. I play the blind card, claiming I would not fairly judge visual evidence -- not necessarily an untruth. As I head back to the hall, I wonder if it's his smile and hello that propelled me to want to excuse myself from judging his case or simply the fact that he was black and 'a guy I could have a beer with.' I then wonder if it is because I have issues with the current drug laws and their implied prejudice or if I simply want to get out of wasting time sitting in a courtroom for weeks. I then think...if I really wanted to help him, I could have gotten on the jury and persuaded them to come to an acquittal.
At noon on day two I am called within a group of seventy for a stalker case. The Justice, much older than the one from the previous day, appears in no hurry and is very long-winded. He spends almost an hour explaining civic duty and courtroom manner. I do appreciate his clarification that upon being sworn in, those who do not believe in the biblical God or oaths may say "I so affirm" in stead of "I swear." I find it interesting that this older judge is the more progressive of the two. The judge speaks so much that we break for lunch before hearing any details of the case. He mentions the claimant's name, but it doesn't stick in my mind.
During lunch I see my ex-supervisor from the Corps at a Starbucks. I try not to be pleased that she looks old, tired and 'of yesterday.' I allow her to say an obligatory hello then scamper off. I then occupy myself with contemplating why she'd stood behind me in the line for ten minutes saying nothing, her underwhelming outfit, and her dark circles. I think about how much happier I am since having left the job to pursue music and writing and consider if I should have expressed that to her. The thought of music causes the though of R&B pop star Ashanti to invade my head space. As I scurry back to the courthouse I quell a growing urge to google her. It's not until I'm firmly ensconced back in the no-cellphone courtroom that I kick myself in the face for not googling her during lunch break. She is the claimant.
Apparently Ashanti is being stalked by a man named Devar Hurd. He sent her several hundred sexually inappropriate tweets. Initially I ponder at why a female pop star would care about a man sending depraved tweets. I receive dozens of grossly perverted texts from men simply because they'd gotten my number from the back of my business card. I then wonder, as a well-off member of a group called "Murder Inc," doesn't Ashanti have people that can 'handle' this? Perhaps I watch too much Breaking Bad, Ray Donavon and Scandal, but I've always assumed you don't bring a cop to a street fight. I do remain intrigued. The judge makes it very clear that no excuses will suffice for evading selection, and try as we may, he's heard it all before. Vacations may be forfeited. The defendant, Mr. Hurd, is introduced. He stands, flashes an 'I'm guilty and could care less about you' scowl then sits back down wordlessly (obviously self-represented).
In that moment I no longer wish to serve on the case. The judge explains that the defendant has already been in and out of jail for the case at hand, and all I can think of is that he either just needs mental and psychiatric help, or a bunch of bigger black men to 'kick his ass.' This is not your average Catcher-in-the-Rye-reading white guy. We're talking about a black man, already paranoid and delusional due to 'the system' who is obsessed with a pop singer. He could be part of a murdering gang, a gun-slinger, an armed robber. He should be dealt with the way the streets deal with such things.
They line us up outside to come in one by one with our excuses. I, twentieth or so in line, watch as some of the Jewish people who'd been previously excused and the pregnant woman walk in to the courtroom then back out to the hall to wait -- having been unexcused, and by the time they get to me, no one has been excused. Knowing the blind card will not work here, I walk in and decide to be honest. I say to the judge, "I'm visually impaired. I'm not certain as to the race of the defendant, but if he is of African decent, I do not believe I can judge fairly in this case." The judge responds with, "Yes, he is African American, but what if I told you the claimants are also African American?" I say, "I cannot judge fairly in case against a man of African decent." The judge looks over at the prosecuting lawyer, and they all nod. The judge excuses me from the case.
I, under oath and on a matter of public record, stated that I am racist.
I understand that in both cases race heavily influenced my decision to excuse myself from selection. We are all racially biased to some extent, as heuristic classifications are a healthy defense mechanism we as humans use for survival, especially during these times of swift social evolution. Fortunately yet unfortunately people often grant an automatic benefit of the doubt to minorities who suggest more erudite qualities. "Wow, she speaks intelligently for a black person." I tend to choose to ride that wave as far as it will take me.
It's that notion -- apart from simply not wanting to waste time serving -- that I believe coerced many of us to opt against serving in the trial of the first case. "Wow, he's a black man, all dressed up with a smile and a hello." Very southern, Sunday church-like. If it were a white man, we would not care as much, as adequate demeanor is expected. Almost every African American figured out a way to be excused not wanting to be part of a group that could convict this man, yet now he will find himself judged by a very non-black jury, for selling drugs to an undercover non-black cop near a non-black school. I lay torn at my decision to excuse. Regardless, I would not have deliberated fairly.
During the second case, my feelings become a little more black and white. There was no nod and smile, and I have no issues with the current stalker laws. I simply felt, as I always feel about black men: the system is so verily stacked against them in so many subtle ways that any subsequent paranoia, delusions and defensiveness should be no surprise. Our second case defendant appeared to me to be a black man who needs help. I, personally, am not for wasting the tax payers money by putting a black man in jail for tweets. He'd simply sit in his cell mentally exasperating his obsession only to come out and engage in more inappropriate tweets as he'd done after his previous jail-time. Again, my feelings on this case would be very different if he were not African American.
That was my very wrenching brush with jury service. Through this experience I've learned that I not only have no interest in sitting on a panel that could potentially sentence a black person to jail, prison or death, I could not sentence anyone to such a fate -- safe for someone who has directly hindered my personal pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.
Sometimes I sit and wonder - if others sit and wonder.
A teaming score of thunder - I've built to tear asunder
This consciousness embodied by the bot I call my body
And the soul an endless function full of fullness and disjunction
With this heart, a motor spinning powered by the vast beginnings
And this brain an ever-student geared by fleshy CP units
And my fingers making motions, tantamount to those of oceans
And my tosies just as nosie as these ears that listen closely
While these eyes they analyze; they are men of their own right
Made of creatures who in history held adequate foresight
I exist because my ancestors felt death to be a blunder
To marvel at the accidental purpose driven splendor
What is I? a resultant spring of others six feet under
Sometimes I sit and wonder - if others sit and wonder.
Who are you currently reading? I tend not to read individual books, but full authors' collections, with Heinlein, Butcher, Scott Card and even Koontz (don't tell anyone) among my favorites. I've always related to whimsical authors. Growing up with Maladaptive Daydreaming (a disorder where you daydream so much it's a disorder) I have always been the type to drum-up characters and story-lines in my head. One day I wrote down one of the crazy stories...and Library Tales Publishing picked it up!
Yesterday a grand jury chose not to indite the police officer who shot and killed the unarmed teenager, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
I believe the issue is no longer simply about race, but a willfully disillusioned perception by many police officers of superiority over certain demographics. Michael Brown, though 6'4 and 230 lbs, was characterized by peers and teachers as a good kid, killed 8 days after graduation for looking threatening at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and to the wrong person.
'I have the authority to kill an unarmed black kid who's hand are in the don't shoot position and not be penalized for my gross misjudgement of character, my lack of situational awareness, and my "shoot first think later" mentality.'
But again, this is not a race issue, this is a copy issue, this is an issue of the rest of the beings making up the Human Being having to fear the parts that make up it's nucleus. At every microcosmic level each organism is generally made up of a nucleus and its support. For an atom, it's the atomic nucleus surrounded by electronics that behave in a certain way as directed by the nucleic makeup. For a cell, it's the cell nucleus surrounded by mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum etc. For a human, it is the brain, which sends out all it's commands, orchestrating to the rest of the bottom what to do, how to think, what to feel and how to act, as well as self-maintenance. For a family, it is the parents surrounded by their growing children, dog, house and life. For the solar system, it is the sun, who with it's energies and gravitational pulls, directs the dance of solar orbit.
For the Human Being -- all humans -- we've created our government as our nucleus, to direct and protect us, keep us safe and existing healthily. And though we created our own nucleus (like an atom creates its own nucleus), we are slowly finding that its singular purposes is being compromised by the growing fallibility of individual human will. As we continue to reward the maladaptive behavior of our nucleus, we destroy our carefully crafted human system. It's similar to rewarding a psychological addiction with more of the substance. The body "knows" it's wrong to continue imbibing, that it's harming the brain, the #1 part of our system we should keep at utmost integrity. If the body continues to allow the destruction of the brain, the nucleus, the body will surely fail.
Who's to blame for our failing nucleus? Is it the government? The police trainings indicating that blacks, hispanics and arabs are to be profiled? Is it us? According to the Maxwell's Demon thought experiment, we are the demon constantly allowing for beings of low-integrity to make up our nucleus. We allow for the haphazard training. Quite literally we are those beings of low integrity that make up our nucleus.
Though the police man who shot Michael Brown was an individual acting on his own personal judgement, the general system and environment created by us, the Human Being, helped create and influence that individual judgement through countless external facets, from our jaded view of our political leaders, to our okay-to-sweep-it-under-the-rug allowances of our police force, to our want to slip within the confines of runes made by some of the most fallible.
Sometimes when you're angry at your spouse, no matter how much they apologize, or do the right thing, or make the most sense, you find yourself still angry. It is because, you're just pettily angry and need to rise above it, and your spouse is left feeling it's his/her fault thought he/she did everything right. This is the same re the failing state of our Human Nucleus. We continue to try our best to perfectly fall within the confines of the laws made by pettily angry lawmakers, only to find ourselves -- though an unarmed, gentle, school graduate -- dead in the streets because the lawmakers could not rise above, individually, procedurally and systematically.
Recently, and by recently I mean within the last year and a half, I've delved deeply into the questions of the human mind as it relates to the cosmic function. One thing we can all agree on is that though many have strong faith and beliefs, no one living truly "knows" the solution tot the cosmic function. What we can say for sure, is that knowledge is a coefficient that tips the scale of power into the beholders favor.
That being said, I find my quest for cosmic understanding (i.e. the understanding of why, who and what I am, why my cells and the atoms that make them up behave the way they do, what my purpose is within society, the human organism's overall role on earth, earth's role within the universe and where 'God' lies within all this), I find my quest more a quest of confidence in purpose. The closer one gets to purpose, the more confident, at-ease and all around fulfilled one becomes. It is how I knew purpose lay within music and writing. Both nodes of prayer (communication with my innermost being, my 'God'-given talent) invoked a feeling of transcendence beyond my normal day-to-day, a feeling of touching on something within me that was larger than myself. The feeling of purpose.
I've found there are two deep talents within me, both stemming from my (what some may deem maladaptive) daydreamings, fantastical musings, my spastic need to create and borderline narcissisticly observe my creations, and the fact that my inner monologue is a bit of an extrovert: Writing and Musing. And though I've concentrated heavily on the music aspect of the creative fluid oozing out of my brain, I actually started out with a heavy mental investment in writing. Neither talent can be ignored. Ask an actress who is also a playwright, or a dancer who is also a flutist. Floutist?
To conclude, I plan on reinvesting in writing; however I intend to couple this mental investment with the want to explore, embrace, communicate, acknowledge, worship, observe and co-create with all levels, microcosmic or macrocosmic, of the cosmic function. Not necessarily a stern search for the answers to "why" but a fun author's-tango with the question.
The sun is the proton of an unfathomable atom, and we are smaller than quarks.
Thoughtwards is a blog celebrating forward thought and the diverse thinkers who think them.
M. Lachi is an award winning recording/performing artist and composer, a published author, and a proponent of forward thinking. Having studied Management at UNC and Music at NYU, M. Lachi employs both savvies in her creative endeavors.
For more on M. Lachi's music click here.