Is Cultural Appropriation Appropriate?

I recently read the submission guidelines of a particular agent, and one of them said “No cultural appropriation.” This prompted me to wonder what cultural appropriation really is.

Most of what I’ve heard about cultural appropriation has been in the negative, such as the case where the African American woman chastised a Caucasian woman for wearing corn rows in her hair. As far as I’m concerned, this goes to the absurd. Saying only African Americans can wear corn rows would be like saying only Mexican Americans eat tacos or Italian Americans can eat spaghetti.

While I think bringing people of all backgrounds further into literature is a noble goal, there is one anecdotal situation where I don’t feel it works. I read online of a writer who wrote a novel about a black slave in the 1800s. The agent liked the story but passed on it because the writer was white. She wanted the story told by an African American. The problem with that is, there is no one today who has been a slave. Being black does not give a person a greater perspective on what life was like for slaves in the 1800s than does being white. There is no such thing as racial memory. The writer learns voices of characters from careful research, as this writer did. A great story about slavery in the 1800s is The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman, a white woman, but she spent years researching the novel, including combing over records and visiting old plantation houses

If I were going to write a story about slaves in the 1800s, I would begin with careful research. I once read Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington. It’s a valuable first-hand account of what a slave’s life was like, but it does not matter what race you are when you read it. What matters is how well you study it. However, if I actually wrote the story, I may be accused of ‘cultural appropriation.’

. There was a speech by Lionel Shriver that caused a real splash recently. Her remarks were essentially it’s the writer’s craft to push his or her limits, often by taking on the voice of characters of other backgrounds. To me, if a writer does this, it’s not cultural appropriation, it’s good writing. Agents and editors should be blind to the background of the writer. It should make no difference what race, gender, religion etc. the writer really is.  What counts is the ability of the writer to project himself or herself as the character. As long as this projection is authentic and respectful toward the cultural group written about, I think writers should be encouraged to explore any ethnic background they want.


The Dem’s Problem Is Not That They Lost An Election.



All the people who are demonstrating against the fact they lost a fair election or are hoping for the very unlikely event a few members of the electoral collage change their votes for Clinton should consider something. Even if the election results were to be changed, it does not fix the problem. Democrats did not connect with white working class voters.

Of everyone seeking the presidency this election, Trump alone knew of the plight of the white working class and he’s President Elect as a result. If Hillary had taken the white working class seriously, she’d be President Elect instead.

As we are reminded after each election cycle, elections have consequences. Without those consequences, there is absolutely no incentive for anyone to improve. If someone were to overturn the election, the Democratic party would stay exactly the way it is now– tuned out to the white working class. The pain of losing an election is bitter for a political party, but it is the only way the Democratic party will realize the value of being connected with all Americans next election cycle.

Republicans should not gloat. Save for Donald Trump realizing white working class voters are angry for being left behind, the Republicans would be in the same position the Democrats are now. And, if they forget the lesson of this election, they will be.

My personal opinion is neither the Democrats or the Republicans are worthy of one’s undying loyalty. If both political parties struggle to connect to all groups of Americans, our democracy works, and the American people come out ahead regardless of which party wins the next election.




When You Reach Me- more than just a time travel novel.


When You Reach Me is Rebecca Steed’s Middle Grade time travel novel. The main character, Miranda, is a twelve-year-old girl growing up in New York City in a single-parent household. In addition to dealing with the challenges of growing up, she keeps getting messages that mention things about her no one else should know. The only conclusion is they come from the future,  and she must piece them together to find out what the sender wants.

What makes this story different is the time travel is not dominant in the story. Instead, the book is mostly dedicated to the struggles Miranda faces as she matures.  The reader sees her interaction with her peers and her family, and her school, and how she grows through them. As a person who never lived in a town with a population greater than 150,000, I think it’s an interesting look at what it would be like to grow up in New York City.

I found the plot lines concerning her growth interesting and as a reader found her an identifiable character. When the time travel plot concludes at the end, however, it comes as a letdown. I was expecting a more dramatic ending, but it never materialized. Still, Miranda is a memorable character and when I finished the book, I found myself missing the character. To me, that’s the mark of a good book.

The Green Book: Little House on the Prairie for Science Fiction fans.

green book


The Green Book by Jill Patton Walsh, 1982.

The Green Book is a fascinating science fiction novel written for lower Middle Grade readers. Pattie’s family leaves Earth along with a group of colonists to start a colony on an alien world. Each member is allowed to take only one book with them. Patty chooses a book of blank pages. (The cover is green, hence the name of the novel). The people think this an odd choice, even for a young child. As the youngest member of the party, she gets to name the new world when they arrive, and chooses Shine. The colonists test every plant they can find on the planet Shine, but none of them appear eatable to humans. If they can’t find food they can digest, they will die.

The novel reminds me of Little House on the Prairie. It’s through the viewpoint of a young girl, who faces similar challenges. The families must find shelter and learn how to farm the alien soil. Just as the Ingalls had to deal with local Indians, the colonists of Shine must learn how to deal with the intelligent aliens on this world. What’s different is, while Laura Ingalls is a spectator, watching her father and mother struggle to survive, Pattie and the children take an active role. They discover trees that produce a kind of edible sap. They are the first to encounter an alien species on the planet. Finally, they discover wheat grown in the alien soil can be made into edible cakes. In the end, the colonists discover the reason Patty brought a book of blank pages– so she can write the history of the colony in it.

What I found fascinating about this novel is the age level it is directed at. The story of people trying to survive on alien worlds is a common theme in science fiction, but it is not common to tell this story to such a young readership. It demonstrates quite well any subject can be covered at any grade level. The Green Book is a great story for introducing science fiction to very young readers.



I figured it was time I finally post my review of Lisa Medley’s Space Cowboys and Indians. I need to inform you ahead of time I am acquainted with the author. While this may affect my objectivity, I can still say if I did not think this novel was worth reading I would not post a review of it on my site.


Space Cowboys and Indians is Lisa Medley’s genre-challenged novel about a man and a woman who wash out of astronaut training but get a second chance to go into space as asteroid miners. They get sucked through a wormhole, end up in an Apache camp, fight an alien, and have mad, passionate sex, all in the space of some forty-thousand words.

The copy I was given to review she said has a few mistakes and she is printing copies with these errors corrected. Still, I found very few errors. If this is what she considers an inferior copy, I’d be very confident the revised novel is thoroughly proofed. The novel contains adult language (although not an excessive amount) and a couple love scenes hot enough you’ll be able to heat your own bath water if you read the novel in the tub. Don’t give it to your grandchildren.

Space Cowboys has a high degree of scientific literacy. As a fan of Science Fiction, I appreciate it when I don’t run into scientific errors that distract from the story. The novel uses several scientific terms, one of which I had to look up myself (it’s used properly by the way.) I know little of Apache culture, but the descriptions of Apache customs and culture flow so well through the story, it appears Medley did her research there as well.

The plot is rather generic: Brash, egotistical hero meets strong-willed heroine who hates him at first but falls in love as the story continues. While it is somewhat cliché, it works here. The characters make wisecracks like junior high students, which will keep the reader laughing. There is a third character in the novel, Noah, who does not seem to have as much presence as he could. I was expecting him to be the third point in a love triangle. However, soon as the characters land after going back through time, he is out of the picture a lot, tending to a sick Apache princess. As a reader, I would have liked to see him more prominent in the novel, but it appears he and the princess will have a major role in a sequel. Still, it might have been well for him to appear more in the current story.

The pace is fast. By the time the reader really gets into the story, it ends. But that is a characteristic of a work of this size. Space Cowboys will make a great evening of reading something a little different from what you normally read.

The Worst Fantasy Story (Ever)

Do you ever get tired of being under so much pressure to write well? I decided the heck with it. I’m going to write a bad story, using every tired, worn-out trope I can think of. What I came up with is below:


The Chosen One woke up in the morning. It was raining. The sky was gray. He got up from his bed, which was stuffed with goose feathers, and walked into the kitchen. His mother was cooking bacon and eggs. She even had a few sliced onions, which burned at the bottom of the skillet.

As he sat on a chair, his mother said, “I really wish you father hadn’t left home when you were three years old to join the Evil Alliance.”

A good wizard knocked at the door. The Chosen One answered it. “Hi, wizard.”

“Hi, Chosen One,” he said. “I need you to come with me because you’re the only one who can fight the evil wizard.”

“Wow! You mean I’m really magic?” Said the Chosen One.

“Yes, you are,” said the good wizard.

As the good wizard took the Chosen One through the village, a group of boys picked on the Chosen One and said, “We like to pick on you because you’re strange.”

“I’m strange because I have magic,” said the Chosen One and he turned the boys to lizards. “Wow! Did you see that?” He said to the good wizard. “This magic stuff really works.”

“You should only use your magic for good,” said the good wizard. He turned them back to boys.

“Now we can fight the evil wizard,” said the Chosen One.

“No,” said the good wizard. “First you have to sharpen your magic skills. See that tree over there? Burn it with a lightning bolt. And that rock back there?  Lift it with a levitation spell.”

The Chosen One did those things. “Cool!”

“Okay, now we can fight the evil wizard,” said the good wizard.

They walked through the forest until they found the evil wizard.

“The evil wizard looked at the Chosen One and said, “Hey! You’re my son, who I walked out on when you were three years old so I can join the Evil Alliance.”

“Hello, Dad,” said the Chosen One. “Would you like to join the Good Alliance?”

“Sure!” Said his father. “I’m tired of being an evil wizard.”

The Chosen One went home with his father and they lived happily ever after.

Then the boy’s alarm clock rang. His mother ran into his bedroom. “Time to get ready for school!”

“Darn!” Said the boy. “This had all been a dream.”

The End

The Definitive Infinitive

I thought I was on to something when I read works from seasoned authors which included split infinitives and thought, “Ah ha! I know something you don’t, split infinitives are wrong.” Turns out I was the wrong one.

An infinitive is a two-part verb form such as ‘to walk’ or ‘to see’ or ‘to work’.  A split infinitive is when another word, usually an adverb, appears between the two words. The most well-known example is the line from Star Trek, “To boldly go.”  It could just as easily have been written “To go boldly” and the split infinitive would be avoided. For years, I thought using split infinitives was incorrect English. I was certain there was a rule against them. However, I have discovered recently this rule apparently has never been very firm.

Whenever I’m uncertain about something having to do with writing, I go to my Chicago Manual of Style. The footnote below the fourteenth edition paragraph 2.98 says the thirteenth edition regarded split infinitives under “errors and infelicities” but also called their use a “debatable error.” However, the fourteenth edition now refers to their use as a “legitimate form of expression.” It appears the split infinitive is becoming more ‘proper’ as time goes by.

So there. With regard to split infinitives, it seems I was wr–  wro–  ahm, wrong. If you are going to keep up with proper writing practices, you have to be willing to eat a little humble pie every now and then.