trump

What Donald Trump’s Victory Can Teach Us About Right and Wrong

Book Recommendations // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor

trump

As I wrote about last week, we have an unfortunate need to be right in all our assessments of the world. Our inner mind is ruled by a great number of cognitive biases (here are just a few) that shape our opinions, actions and identity.

Let’s take the past 24 hours (yes, I’m going there). Each and every American had an opinion about who would be the best future president. How did they come to their conclusion?

They may have considered their reference group–the friends and family most close to them. Who would they vote for? They may have assessed themselves and asked “Well . . . I believe in these key democrat issues, so I’ll vote Hillary.” They may have had a bad experience with Obama Care and so voted for Trump. They may have actually abosorbed those mind numbing commercials extolling the virtues of candidate A and condemining candidate B.  They may have carefully studied the issues and made a decision based on their values (also influenced heavily by there reference group).  And on and on.

Whichever path they took, they were certain their choice was the absolute right one.

Although Trump won, the margins were very slim, almost 50/50. If half Americans believe one way and half another way, who gets to be right?

Fast forward ten years, its been awhile since Trump’s presidency. Historians look back on his term(s) and write well-researched books–some for and some against Trump’s performance and character. Do we then know what is right?

What is right anyway? Is it defined by how well Trump cuts taxes, secures our borders or many of the other promises he made? But how can we know if those, if realized, were the right choice? What if he builds the Great Wall of Mexico (which already exists, by the way) and in years to come it is said to hurt our economy or cause illegal drug trade to find new routes, leading to loss of life or additional burden on currently unburdened systems? Is that right? Is it wrong?

On Monday the pollsters said Hillary was projected to win. The margin was big enough to be significant. They were sure they were right.

Here’s my point:

There is no right.

When I figured this out, about ten years ago, it blew my mind. It was the stroke that split the diamond and changed my life forever.

I came up with a metaphor to describe the idea to friends at parties:

A hungry wolf must feed her cubs, as they are close to starvation. She sets out one dewey morning to hunt and spots a plump hare. She makes chase and catches the hair, kills it and feeds it to her cubs. The cubs are very happy with their mother and see her as virtuous.

A plump hare is hungry for clover so she leaves her warren to search for some. Out of nowhere, the wolf pounces upon her and kills her. Learning of this, the other hares see the wolf as a very wicked creature.

Which group is right? The cubs or the warren? Something has been killed, to be sure. But had the wolf valued the hair’s life, her cubs would have starved and died. Would she then have been in the wrong?

In positing this metaphor, my friends would conclude that right and wrong is reletive to the goals of the viewer. The warren was unhappy because their goals are to live and reproduce. The wolf was happy because his goal was to live and reproduce. The rightness was soely dependant on the point of view of the actor.

Don Miguel Ruiz has a term for this point of view. In his excellent book The Four Agreements, he names it as “he dream of the planet” in which “All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in.” 

In the second book in his series, called The Fifth Agreement he likens the dream to a mall filled with movie theaters. You see your name on the marquee nearby and so you go in. You sit next to yourself and watch your movie. There are allies, heroes and villians and they all match up to how you view things. You exit the theater and go to your mother’s movie. She has many of the same characters in her movie only they are cast in different roles. Someone you see as a villain is her best friend, another you see as a saint is her nemesis, and so on. As you continue through each theater (your kid’s movies, your spouse’s movie, your friend’s movies) you see that you play many different roles in their life.

But which one of them is accurate?

I had grown up in Utah, where Mormon beliefs are ubiquitous. We were constantly told the church was the “right church,” a statement I saw as fact.

Then I visited New York City and observed the hasidic jews (which I had never seen before) and the catholic mass services and the melting pot in general and I was like Neo waking up to the uncomfortable fact that I might not know what the hell is going on.

Once I was able to admit to myself that my point of view was as unique as my tongue-print, I knew I had something of a special secret.

Let’s consider some of the implications of the absence of the belief in right and wrong:

1. We may choose any path in life without reference to any group or person who has motivation to control us unless we want to be controlled for the sake of survival and positive outcomes.

2. Rather than see it as a licence to become more selfish and immoral, we will increase our empathy a hundredfold. It will be acceptable for other’s views to differ from ours.

3. We will be better able to consider alternate possibilities which might not lean in our favor, and therefore mentally recover from these bad outcomes more quickly or plan for them and surpass them.

4. We will acknowledge the complexity of the universe, which leaves us open to new opinions.

5. We will be better able to come to grips with our place in the world by knowing that the acoutriments of fame, wealth and status are simply a dream and don’t matter to our self worth or even our happiness.

6. We will be able to act toward our own values and resist the sway of the popular.

7. We will not fear punishment by a cruel God for acting upon impulses of the jungle. We can recover from our mistakes, learn and move on.

8. We will be able to forgive others who impede our path. They are just acting upon impulses of the jungle and deserve mercy.

9. We can cease persuing what does not actually matter to us.

Could there be anything more freeing?

 

 

 

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November 9th, 2016

warofart

How Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” Changed My Life

Book Recommendations // Craft Of Writing // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor

the-war-of-art

For the last few posts I have written about self-sabotage. I couldn’t let this topic float away without highlighting the number one book that has profoundly changed my life since I read it four years ago, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. If you are my friend, chances are I have purchased and gifted this book to you. 

This book deals chiefly with self-sabotage as a dark force of nature, an indifferent but malevolent law known as “resistance.”

Resistance is defined by anything that stops us from growing to become what we want to be. Often, we create a vision for ourselves, a future. We want tight abs, we want the perfect relationship, we want a successful career.

But day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, the invisible force stops us from becoming.

While writing this post it was very important for me not to appear like a complete psychotic fangirl of this book. After all, I have probably read it over 100 times. I have the audio book in my car and there are whole weeks where I listen to it on repeat. Pressfield’s name is so common in my household that every time I get near the topic, my husband proclaims “Who’s Steven Pressfield? I don’t know!” I regularly comment on his blog and have read every other book he’s written including the big thick ones about war and stuff.

But I can’t help but be a little bit of a psychotic fangirl because this book delivered to me a highly useful model that I have been lacking for decades in my search for the reason why I can’t get stuff done.

I hold the belief that, with the exception of physical things that we can touch see and smell, nothing is truly real unless we decide it is. I also hold the belief that all books in the self-help genre, that is, books that help you become what you desire, are simply cheap tricks to get us to do what we know we should do. Some of these tricks are not objectively true–meaning that we can’t prove them through sight and smell and sound. They become true for us because they fulfill a need to understand. 

I call them cheap tricks, others call them mental models. Whatever you call them, the result is the same. A mental model is like a machine. You put a stimulus (thought, emotion, etc) into the machine and it comes out different on the other side, closer to how you want it to really be.

I collect mental models like some people collect Instagram likes.

Pressfield’s book was a highly useful machine for me. I stuffed all of my failure, my self-recrimination, my procrastination, and my endless destructive tendencies into this machine and it came out on the other side with meaning.

The meaning was that I was besieged with this invisible demon called resistance, which is self-sabotage embodied. And it was my duty to wage war on this foe or die trying.

MY LIFE BEFORE THIS BOOK

Permit me to offer my own version of a recent Pressfield blog post (he put it so much better). Before I read The War of Art, I was always looking for shiny new things to distract me.

Sometimes the new things came in the form of things I could buy. I started dealing antiques and vintage when I was 19 and quickly found out there is always an estate sale to go to, always something to sift through, always an old barn to explore.

Sometimes the new things came in the form of other jobs. I took up photography and did it semi-professionally for a few years. I got corporate jobs.  I opened up several businesses under many different names. I even took a half-hearted stab at professional art, graphic design and interior decorating.

Sometimes the new things came in the form of relationships. I had cliques, buddies, groups, lovers and clients. There was a space of five years at least where I didn’t go a single day without hanging out with someone. I spent way too much time on Facebook and Flickr and message boards–my god, the message boards! At one point in my early twenties, I was a daily frequenter of at least eleven, sporting an embarrassingly juvenile handle and avatar that I would hate for someone to dig up.

Sometimes the new things came in the form of danger and excitement. I skydived, bobsledded, went on lone vacations, got into quick relationships with unsavory dudes, started wars and fights and stopped looking at my bank account.

Sometimes the new things came in the form of passive distractions. I watched more hours of television and played more video games as a kid than I care to admit.

Sometimes the new things came in the sneaky form of things that would improve my soul–in the wrong direction. I spent years as a devout Mormon, plumbing the depths of that religion by working at the church’s headquarters and participating in secret temple ceremonies and wasting my time on Sunday’s tending other people’s kids so they could get the “spirit.” I took up any number of health regimens. I joined courses, and groups and went back to school, then went back to school again and then again. Perhaps the worst of these soul enlightening activities was the endless intake and digestion of indoctrinated cultural norms spoon-fed to me by my elders. I believed them.

Mostly, I waited for someone else to do stuff for me.

MY LIFE AFTER THIS BOOK

My day is not unlike the day described in the opening chapter of War of Art. I wake up, I go on my walk. Then, I go to work. I stay there all day. I go home and I hang out with my people and rest.

I am not unhappy.

The thing about this regimen is that no one is making me do any of this. I have complete and utter control of my day.

Give me the same privilege ten years ago and I would have wasted it.

Don’t get me wrong, every day is a little different. It is different in that resistance always has a different trick.

I have come to see resistance as a virus. Once you are inoculated (i.e. recognize) his mode of attack, he mutates and morphs into something that will get you just as bad or worse the next time.

Today’s form was a little drama at the gas station where I get my morning drink. The clerk gave me the drink for free as retribution against his boss. After getting home, I thought about it for a nanosecond and went back to the gas station to pay for my drink. I couldn’t let that sit on my mind all day and stop me from writing.

Tomorrow resistance will try something different. There are many forms that no longer work for me. I don’t get stuck on social media, I don’t get stuck in lines at the store, I don’t take naps and I don’t spend endless hours talking with friends. I rarely shop anymore. I don’t primp. I don’t plan. I don’t start new projects. I see those for what they are, distractions from the things I set out to do every day.

I am humble because I know that he will find new ways to get me tomorrow. He will manufacture a pang in my side. He will flood my basement. He will fill my mailbox full of offers I can’t refuse. He will give me a great idea about a totally new and exciting project. He will give me so much business I won’t be able to think about anything else.

Even if I succumb for one day, I forgive myself and try again the next day.

I try every day.

October 28th, 2016

mazes and monsters

Three Reasons You Take Yourself So Seriously

Antiques & Vintage // Author & Illustrator Interviews // Book Recommendations // Craft Of Writing // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor // Writing Advice

mazes and monsters
Tom Hanks and crew in “Mazes and Monsters.”


THE MYTH

You believe that an almighty other (god, your parents, yourself) has deemed you a special and purposed as an instigator for some social movement, cultural obsession or big change. If that is your destiny how could you not take yourself so seriously? Stepping into Nelson Mandela’s shoes is huge and you better do a good job or you may fail to make the change you were destined to make!

THE REALITY

No one cares what you do. Your parents may give a blip of caring, but only as long as you aren’t upsetting the worldview they have created to keep themselves feeling safe and significant. Outside of your parents, the next closest person that might care is your significant other, and only because it’s either adding or subtracting resources from their coffers (time, money, attention, fun, etc). Your children will think what you do is amazing up to the age of eleven, wherein they will promptly morph into machines of uncaring and eye-rolling at every last word you say. Everyone else in the world is just living their lives independent of your grandeur. They aren’t likely to give you one iota of attention unless you give them something they can’t get better or cheaper elsewhere.

THE MYTH

Everyone is watching you, therefore, you must be extra careful with every word you write and make sure you don’t come off as an amateur or else the pain and ignominy will last until time immemorial.

THE REALITY

When I found out my daughter’s elementary school had a “no cross-dressing” rule for Halloween costumes, I went to help out at the party dressed as Jesus Christ. We live in an incredibly religious community so I feared that my costume would offend many people, in fact, I was counting on it. Guess what? No one said a word about my costume. If they had any thoughts, they kept it to themselves and nothing happened.

The only people watching you is your ex and they only do that at 2am on a Thursday night when they need to feel better about themselves. Other than that, you are invisible. Check your view counts. Check your stats. Single digits. There is nothing you can do to get the attention of onlookers that wouldn’t be immediately negated in favor of the onlooker getting a sandwich or cookie.

The beauty of knowing very few people are watching is that you can freely screw up and enjoy it.

THE MYTH

If you don’t do this perfectly, you won’t do it at all. You have high standards, after all.

THE REALITY

This attitude is called the “idealistic fallacy.” This is a common ailment affecting those in their late teens and early twenties (I know I had it pretty bad). The general premise is that you have a vision in your head of the ideal way to do things and will not allow it into the world unless it fits that ideal. This comes from the mistaken notion that you have any clue about what is ideal, which you don’t. Idealism is a moving target, one highly impossible to hit.

I love to talk about Tom Hanks when I encounter idealists. Have you ever seen Mazes and Monsters? It is one of Tom Hank’s first films and it is truly terrible. He went on to make a score of similar terrible movies like Joe Versus The Volcano and Turner And Hooch. If those are the works by which he will be judged at the end of his life then I pity him. But he also went on to make some truly stunning films such as Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump and Captain Phillips (check out the closing scene, it’s one of the finest pieces of acting I had ever encountered).

THE ANTIDOTE

The antidote to taking yourself so seriously is, of course, to allow yourself to screw up a lot, be imperfect, let go of the accolades you think you have piled up. Realize that everyone, including the great ones, are flawed, weak and stupid in ways we don’t see. They will never be the ideal. You will never be the ideal.

There is no ideal.

 

August 11th, 2016

Goat_work

GOAT: A Fable on Becoming Your Truest Self

Book Recommendations

Goat: A Fable on Becoming Your Truest Self

New book on Wattpad!

Soule loves the goats in his tribe, especially Mama Maa, his mother. But as he grows he realizes something is terribly wrong. He doesn’t think as the other goats do. He doesn’t act like the other goats do. And he is  becoming quite sick with questions.

Then, something unthinkable happens. A monster attacks Soule’s tribe! Amid the blood and terror, a figure emerges: Lore, the king of the Tigers.

Lore is interested in Soule, and not as a meal. Lore knows what Soule is. But will Soule accept the truth and face his frightening destiny?

Have you ever felt totally different than everyone else? Do you feel like no one really “gets” you? Do people often call you strange or weird? Are you afraid that someday someone will discover the “real” you?

On the vein of “Who Moved My Cheese?” GOAT is a self-help book hidden within an ancient Hindu fable sometimes referred to “The Grass Eating Tiger” or “The Lion and the Sheep.”

I encountered this fable while conducting intense research on a variety of topics relevant to psychology and the practical usefulness of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. I wanted to find practical answers to some of life’s most bothersome questions surrounding loneliness, isolation, ambition and mindfulness.

In each chapter, Lore gives Soule a lesson that profoundly impacts Lore’s future and beliefs about himself. I hope they are also able to help you too! I know they helped me!

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July 14th, 2016

The Song of Burning Souls

Free Story on Wattpad! The Song of Burning Souls

Book Recommendations // Erika Viktor // Uncategorized

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I am thrilled to announce that I have posted a new novella/digital short on Wattpad! The Song of Burning Souls launched this week and I will be adding chapters slowly throughout the next month! You can read it for free here. For those of you who don’t know, Wattpad is a free online platform where writers post their novels and readers can devour them for free! What a deal!

Here’s a quick synopsis:

The song haunted Andrew’s dreams. Then he found the singer: Lithe-a girl made of flame who lives in the vents of his apartment building. Slowly, she shows him the fire world, a brilliant place where there are no lonely winters. But these glimpses are as dangerous as they are tantalizing. Soon, Andrew can’t stop craving the heat.

But someone doesn’t like Andrew’s friendship with the fire girl. Someone who lives deep in the basement amid boxes belonging to other lost children. Someone who will stop at nothing to devour them both.

What is this creature? Why has he trapped Lithe? Most importantly, can Andrew play with fire without getting burned?

—————–

This story was inspired by true events! A few years ago I moved into a very old house with large hot air vents on the walls and a cantankerous furnace. One evening, as I was drifting off to sleep, I glimpsed a light behind the grate in my room (the grate on the cover is an exact likeness of the one in my house!) The light grew brilliant and bright for a brief moment, then disappeared. I pried the grate off the wall and poked my head down there but saw no light. I was alone in the house and far too scared to go back to sleep so I got up and wrote the first draft of this story. To this day I have no idea where the light came from. Maybe it was the light of inspiration!

I’ll be posting a bit more about this in the coming weeks but for now I hope you enjoy!

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April 22nd, 2016

Bradbury1218

5 Nuggets of Wisdom from Ray Bradbury

Book Recommendations // Encouragement & Philosophy // Writing Advice

Bradbury1218I’m a giant fan girl of author Ray Bradbury. He was passionate, positive and ridiculously talented. Sadly he passed on at the age of 91, but his famous quotes outlive him.

Bradbury is most remembered for his prominent contributions to the fields of science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery. Among his most popular works of literature are Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Halloween Tree, The Illustrated Man and Dandelion Wine. He taught, he lectured, and back in his office and sanctuary, he hit his typewriter and created powerful stories. He never ran out of ideas. He taught upcoming scholars and sought reviews from peer thinkers. And from that, a great pool of quotes has been assembled in his name. Here are selected nuggets of wisdom picked from Ray Bradbury’s teachings.

“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”

Ray advocated writing frequently, spontaneously, and with passion. This quote may be addressing writers in particular, but in essence it applies to practically everyone involved in a form of craft. Practice makes perfect, remember that cliché?

Whether you are a singer, a preacher, a soldier, a martial artist; do it all the time and see what you become after a while. Look at the body builders, why do they spend almost all the time in the gym? Why must a boxing champion remain in the ring even years after he has won several titles? The answer is simple: he needs to do it over and over to be better.

How good you become in producing an output depends on how repeatedly you do it. Repetition, practice is the main essence of learning. You must write a lot to write well. You must practice a lot to fight well, to preach well, to teach well or to ride well.

“Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.”

You are not perfect now, but start anyway. Start getting things out there just to get used to getting things out there. No one is going to remember your bad stuff–not even editors, who handle dozens, if not hundreds of manuscripts a day via the help of free university interns who will also fail to remember your name.

This quote is the equivalent of ‘fake it till you make it.’ You need to have the guts of going for something if you want to succeed at it.

“I don’t believe in being serious about anything. I think life is too serious to be taken seriously.”

This could appear quite paradoxical to those who knew Ray. He was highly disciplined at what he did. It would appear to anyone that he took life very seriously. Diligence and extreme seriousness are different. The message here is, never put so much hope on anything, because disappointments are bound to arise. If you expect less, you’ll be so happy when you achieve anything more. Most importantly, don’t take yourself too seriously–because no one else does!

“The women in my life have all been librarians, English teachers, or booksellers. If they couldn’t speak pidgin Tolstoy, articulate Henry James, or give me directions to Usher and Ox, it was no go. I have always longed for education, and pillow talk’s the best.”

The choice of one’s company as a key determinant of success. In one of his lectures to a group of young people, he advised the young men to let go of any partner who did not consider their craft worthy.

This is the same message that should go to anyone who wants to succeed in anything. You are the average of all your friends. Choose successful people as company and you are likely to be successful. Choose the company of thugs and you are likely to become one. Always ensure that your company adds value to you.

“Do what you love and love what you do.”

 It is only through passion that we must accomplish anything. People admired Ray Bradbury because of what he could do, but few could emulate his commitment. According to him, he received literally no income from his literary work during the first two years of his career. Yet he did not stop or relent in his commitment to writing. The only fuel? His passion.

August 12th, 2015

stars-over-desert

Finding the Hidden Idea In A Short Story

Book Recommendations

stars-over-desert

My father got me interested in short stories when I was a teenager. He was a science buff and we would stay up late into the night discussing theories on everything from the size of the universe to where life came from. It was from him I learned about Heisenberg uncertainty principle and Schrodinger’s cat. Often, he would illustrate these principles using science fiction short stories he had read. From his recommendations, I was immediately hooked on short story anthologies. I grew to love the greats like Harrison Bergeron and The Sliced-Crosswise Only on Tuesday World. One of my all-time favorites was a short short called The Choice by W. Hilton Young–a story that packs a punch in less than 300 words.

As my tastes changed, I moved out of science fiction to horror classics. H.P. Lovecraft and Poe became my idols. Next I moved to literary classics like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Shirly Jackson’s The Lottery, and there I seem to hover, hungry for the really good stuff.

The short story seems to be a dying art–mostly consumed and sustained by the literary hangers-on who remember the old days when television and the internet didn’t shorten our attention span to four nanoseconds. I am one of those hangers-on.

Why are short stories significant? Short stories have the unique ability to convey one strong idea in a short period of time. Novels may have subplots and huge casts of characters and multiple settings, allowing an idea to grow slowly, but in a short story, you don’t have those boondoggles to get in the way of the payoff. The themes are strong, and leave a smoke of understanding in your mind afterward–that is, if the story is good.

illustrated manTo illustrate what I mean, let’s take the Ray Bradbury classic The Veldt, a story I encountered in his anthology turned novel: The Illustrated Man. In the story, a family lives in TheHappyLife Home, where everything is done for them. The children won’t leave the nursery. They seem preoccupied by a scene on their wall of lions devouring something. This nursery wall connects to the children’s brain and can recreate their thoughts and imaginations. The parents notice the children watching this scene over and over and employ a psychologist to determine the problem. He suggests they move to the country where there is no holographic nursery. The parents decide this is a great idea. But before leaving for their new home, the children lock their parents in the nursery and the psychologist finds that the thing the lion is devouring is, in fact, the parents. How the children interfaced reality with the simulation isn’t discussed.

veldt

So what’s the idea in The Veldt? This depends entirely on the readers interpretation. Some ideas are: “Technology will render us useless” or, to put it another way “Unnatural technology will corrupt our future.” You could also pull out, “If technology is allowed to replace human effort, the effect will be disastrous.”

 

The Veldt, conveys those ideas in a much more meaningful way than a magazine article about keeping your kids away from television can. We sympathize with the parents, and fear making mistakes with our own children. The story plays on those fears and tells us what the result will be if we allow technology to remove vital aspects of our humanity. This is the power of fable.

Harrison Bergeron’s Theme is: “If we are all rendered equal, we are all rendered inferior. The theme for The Choice is: “Ignorance is preferred over painful truth.” These are powerful, polarized ideas that seed debate over larger problems like socialism, and government control through loss of rights. Each author is clearly stating what he believes. You may believe differently.

This weekend we spent time in the ethereal landscape of Goblin Valley, Utah. When it grew late, I pulled out an old book of short stories and we read a few to each other by the campfire. It made me remember, for just a moment, how thrilled I was in my youth to lay down for a couple of hours and consume each tale–then afterward, critique the hell out of it (if I hated it) or build temples for it (if I loved it). The ones we read were interesting, but did not strike a strong chord because their ideas were weak.

Later that night, we took a walk down a deserted road in the pitch dark and began talking about ideas. We asked each other: “If you could cause a major scientific breakthrough for man kind, which would it be?” and “How can the universe be endless if everything in nature has a beginning and an end?” and “What is the probability of life on other planets?” and “If you had a truth telling machine, would you be brave enough to ask it if God exists?”

There is something about deserted landscapes and a roof of starlight that sends your mind soaring with ideas. The key to good short fiction is to find these “ideas” and then attempt to answer them through narrative. It doesn’t matter if your reader agrees with you or not. It only matters that you stated your idea.

July 29th, 2015

matt_delapena

Diversity In Children’s Fiction with Matt De La Pena

Book Recommendations // Erika Viktor // Uncategorized

Matt De La Pena

As I write this post I am repeating a mantra:

“No Josh Groban Jokes, no Josh Groban Jokes!”

Because you see, he looks a lot like Josh Groban. Who am I talking about? Why, uber diversity kid-lit super star Matt De La Pena!

At my last SCBWI conference, I had the pleasure of listening to Matt speak on diversity. I also ambushed him in the hallway and spoke to him between sessions. He was an amazingly personable guy! We spoke about living in New York and the cool kid-lit culture scene that exists there. He also patiently answered some of my questions and did not smack me when I told him he looked like Josh Groban (it’s okay, Matt, people tell me I look like Zooey Deschanel, Dakota Johnson and Emily Blunt, though I think those people are confusing “looking like someone” with “having the same haircut as someone.”)

Now, diversity is really important and I was excited to learn what other people thought about it. I did have to wonder why the good people at SCBWI chose to deal with this topic in the most white state in the union: Boise Idaho. I looked around the room and chucklingly noticed to myself that there was exactly two people of color there, and one of them was Matt. (Can I say “of color?”) Everyone else was a very, very white school teacher/mom/housewife type, and because of that, we were scared poopless. We were all human women without color (can I say “without color?”) and were super sensitive about putting people of any race in our books because . . . are we allowed to? If we try, will all the editors strike us down and send their monkeys to dance on our smoking corpses?

Okay. I’m getting dramatic. Slowing down…

I want to do the right thing but I’m scared. In fact, I have written and rewritten this post about 40 times, taking out anything that got as near as forty miles from anything that would either point out race differences or allude to racial inequalities. That’s how scared I am.

This topic was of particular concern to me because an editor had an issue with a Native American in one of my novels. This was said while Twilight—a book where Native Americans ARE LITERALLY WEREWOLVES was topping the charts. I was thoroughly confused as to what the editor meant. Was the inclusion of this character revealing me as “a racial stereotype” writer? Was the fact that this character was eccentric a problem? What am I doing wrong? Did it count that my great, great, great grandfather was full Cherokee?

I’m not alone in feeling slightly unsure when it comes to race. Attendees at the conference (the HUGE majority being 40+ year-old white women) kept asking nervous questions to the speakers. How can we be supportive of the cause of race equality while still honoring what makes certain cultures different?

As Matt would illustrate, it isn’t an easy path to navigate.

Matt is viewed as a Hispanic author but was viewed as white while growing up, being the son of mixed-race parents. Throughout his childhood he suffered from being “not Mexican enough.” Despite this nagging sense, he adopted the culture of the “machismo” which is all about honor and respect. He went on to denounce things that made him openly cry and even went on to a basketball scholarship from the University of the Pacific.

But it was the book “The Color Purple” that finally broke this “no-cry” exterior. He openly wept while reading it. From then on, reading and writing became a safe place to feel. Matt said: “Reading is the ultimate form of empathy.”

One of Matt’s poems won a contest (partly due to the fact he eliminated some of the competition by removing the posters advertising the contest, ha ha!) but all his team mates thought he was weird. Matt then turned to other writers to find his people. He learned that they viewed him as a jock, rather than a writer. Matt felt like he could never exist fully in any particular circle.

That feeling of always being outside deepened his novels, which went on to become New York Times best sellers.

Matt’s talk was filled with a lot of hilarious confessions. Like the time when he ripped out the agent pages in a copy of “Writer’s Market” because he couldn’t afford to buy it. He has since paid that Barnes & Noble back. He also told of how he wrote letters to agents telling them that his mom (who was going through menopause and was therefore extremely moody) would be cheered up if he was signed.

Matt’s most important piece of wisdom for the non-diverse writer: “You can write outside your race as long as you write the inside of your character.”

Matt’s Books:

The Hunted (2015)

Last Stop on Market Street (2015)

The Living (2015)

I Will Save You (2011)

Mexican Whiteboy (2010)

We Were Here (2010)

Ball Don’t Lie (2007)

matt_delapena Bio From Matt’s Website: Matt de la Peña is the New York Times bestselling author of six critically-acclaimed young adult novels (including Mexican WhiteBoy, The Living and The Hunted) and two award-winning picture books (A Nations Hope and Last Stop on Market Street). Matt received his MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and his BA from the University of the Pacific, where he attended school on a full athletic scholarship for basketball. de la Peña currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his family. He teaches creative writing and visits high schools and colleges throughout the country.

July 8th, 2015