DiversifYA: Lisa T Cresswell
|July 16, 2013||Posted by DiversifYA under DiversifYA, Family Life||
Lisa T. Cresswell joins us on the blog today! Lisa is a Great Basin archaeologist and the author of middle grade fantasy trilogy THE STORYTELLER SERIES and the upcoming YA novel HUSH PUPPY (how good does that sound?).
1. How do you identify yourself?
First, I’d like to thank Marieke for addressing this important topic and being kind enough to let me do an interview. It’s something near and dear to my heart. I’m an anthropologist by training so diversity is something I’ve always been fascinated by.
How I identify myself.
I think of myself first and foremost as a mother, since it’s the most important job I’ve ever had and it can be all consuming. Formal education is important, but I think it’s maybe more important that my children learn compassion, empathy, tolerance and understanding. I grew up in a non-traditional, white Southern U.S. family. My parents divorced when I was young and I remember we were rather poor in those early days. The South is all about social status based on skin color and economics, sorry to say. It definitely shaped my outlook on the world.
These days I’m working toward my dreams of being a writer, which means constantly fighting back that terrible inner voice that constantly whispers, “You aren’t good enough. No one will like you.” I’ve gotten a lot better at ignoring it. I think a lot of people know that voice. It’s based in fear. And really, there is nothing to fear. You and I are so much stronger than we know and we have to remember that.
2. What did it feel like growing up in a non-traditional family?
Back in the 1970’s, women were just starting to enter the work force. Being a single mother, my mother had to work whether she wanted to or not. I see a lot of divorced parents nowadays sharing the care of their children, which is great. In our situation, my mother was our only caregiver. I remember coming home after school to an empty house many times. I was what they called a latch key kid. I didn’t realize it at the time, but for much of my life, I longed for what I thought was a “normal” family, like the Brady Bunch I watched every afternoon. I remember feeling poor because we were told so many times that we couldn’t afford things. And I remember feeling ashamed of the clothes I wore because they weren’t the hip and trendy things other kids wore at my school. My sister and I certainly weren’t spoiled.
3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?
Obviously, I think it’s hard for one parent to be all things to a child. A father brings different skills to parenting than a mother, and I think both are beneficial. Children are like sponges and they seem to need constant attention. I know my mother couldn’t give me all the time that I craved with her as a child, but she did the best she could. Sometimes it just isn’t possible for a child to have two parents living with them, but as long as they have positive adult role models in their lives, they can grow into healthy adults.
4. What do you wish people knew about having a non-traditional family?
That there is no “normal” anymore. Society told us for years and years that a family consisted of a mother, a father, and their biological children. But the concept of a family is so much bigger than that. It’s aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas, cousins and family friends that are so close they might as well be related. It’s domestic partners and step parents, half brothers and sisters. It’s any home where you are loved, respected, and cared for. That’s what’s important. Not whether or not you fit into neatly constructed categories created by someone in 1950. There is no normal. Maybe there never was?
5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?
Thanks to Cinderella, everyone one knows about evil step mothers and step sisters. Unfortunately sometimes, they do exist. I never had an evil step mother or evil siblings, but I had an evil step father once that I’d rather not remember. There’s also the “dead beat dad” stereotype. Those people exist too, but I hope they are actually a minority. Not everyone is cut out to be a parent. Children can try the patience of a saint and some people just don’t have what it takes. (I’ve often thought there should be some kind of permit or license required before you’re allowed to have children.)
Kidding aside, I think perhaps the biggest misconception out there is that there is one perfect way to parent. There have been a ton books published on how to do it, but the truth is, every child is different and must be raised a little differently. We can’t help being diverse. It’s the way we’re built and that’s ok. It’s what we are.
Bonus: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?
I read someone’s advice once, but darn if I can’t remember who said it. The message was this – everyone wants something, even if it’s just a glass of water. So every character you make must have some deep inner desire they’re carrying around inside them. You’ve probably heard the standard “What does the main character want? What’s standing in their way?” Take it a step further and figure this out for every character, not just the main character.
Secondly, we’re all human and we have flaws. These may be real flaws, like arrogance, or imagined flaws, like self-doubt. We have bad habits, like smoking or drinking too much or gossiping, and we have good habits, like kindness and thoughtfulness. Give each character at least one flaw, maybe more, and at least one redeeming quality. The world is not black and white; it’s gray. No one is all good or all bad. We are a little of everything. Creating your characters this way gives them dimension and makes them inherently diverse.
Lastly, I like to give characters something special and unique to them. It can be physical or not. We all have eye color and skin color. We all have a culture. In fantasy writing, it can be a magical power unique to that character. In my current manuscript, I made my main character a burn victim. (That sounds so mean.) I also gave her an unusual occupation – slave. (Really mean.) You can probably imagine how these unique qualities contribute to the character’s desires and conflict in the novel.
If you remember these three things – desires, flaws, uniqueness – and build them into your characters, you can easily achieve diversity in your writing. Don’t be afraid of writing a character of another race than you, but be respectful by avoiding stereotypes. Remember that we’re all human beings with basically the same desires for love and respect and you’ll do fine. If you have any questions for me, I’d be happy to answer them here or feel free to jump over to my blog and visit with me there. Thanks so much!