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Minimal Character Description in Fiction: I Don’t Think So

(Note: This was originally posted on my blog.)

I’ve read quite a few books on the craft of writing fiction, and I remember it being stated several times that one shouldn’t describe their main character in detail. In fact, I’ve also heard from many writing tips launched around the web that it might even be best not to describe them at all. The reasoning seems to be that it doesn’t matter, that physical description is annoying to retain, and that it’s a distraction from the story. At my writing organization meeting last month, the guest speaker author mentioned this and the audience nodded their heads like, “Amen. Totally! Describing characters is a rookie move!”
And I was sitting there like, “Oh hell no!”
I just don’t think that’s advice that can be applied indiscriminately. I think it might even be damaging for new writers to internalize this advice. If you’re writing a plot-driven, adult thriller, then sure, physical appearance might not be important at all.
Here’s the thing: If you don’t describe a character, then the reader will conjure up their own person, which might sound fine at first. Go reader imagination! But how many of us are going to go out of our way to paint some diversity in our mental representations of characters? How many of us are going to conjure up a white, thin, beautiful person without even meaning to? Be honest here. These images of what is considered the norm have been bombarded at us since birth. We know exactly what the ideal is, and everything else is “other.” The “generic person” to most of us looks a certain way.
As soon as I started writing novels, I knew I was going to be very explicit about my characters’ physical appearance. I knew I was going to sprinkle reminders here and there through the text to ensure my character didn’t get whitewashed or suddenly become a size zero. I write young adult novels, and one of my goals as a writer is to add some diversity to the world of YA. Unless I tell readers that guy is black, chances are most readers won’t just decide he’s black on their own. And if I don’t tell the reader right off the bat that this person is fat or uses a cane, and if I don’t add a reminder down the road, then what are the chances of my jarring a reader by totally contradicting the mental image they’d created? Just look what happened when people realized Rue wasn’t white in the Hunger Games! Absolutely craziness that should’ve never happened, but it did because diversity isn’t celebrated in mainstream society. It’s jarring. It takes getting used to.
I want you to know my character is rocking a hot pair of ankle boots and her hair is looking amazing—and that she’s fat. That matters. I don’t want you to not get that. Her presence in literature is warranted because she represents real people. She can be fat just because. Just because I want you to see her. The story doesn’t have to revolve around the “problem” of being obese, or the “problem” of being a teen with mobility issues for us to be able to see a teen with a high percentage of body fat, or using a cane to get around. These people exist everywhere and they can be in stories just because. I think most of us would agree on that. But do we all agree that unless they are explicitly inserted into the story, they will remain unseen? Covered by perfect cardboard cutouts of the ideal teens according to the media?
This is a topic that’s especially relevant to me as a writer because I write about queer characters. I write about people who look different, and who often can’t move through the world without their appearance affecting the way they are treated by others. I need for that to be seen; therefore I have to describe it. That adds a whole other layer to why description is a very important component of my writing.
So I would really caution writers from accepting the “describe your characters minimally, or not at all” advice and consider whether or not you’d like to add a little diversity in your fictional world, or if you’d like to run the risk of adding another white, good looking, able-bodied human to the mix. We’ve got a shitload of those already.
What do you guys think?

Ready or Not Fanfiction: Chapter 1

(This is reposted from my blog.)

In December (2013), I posted about my love of the ’90s Canadian TV show Ready or Not. Then, I talked about how I wanted to reboot it, take the story and pick things up in 2004 for Busy and Amanda. People like to shit on fanfiction, because it’s not “real” writing, right? I happen to think fanfiction could be a great way to start writing. Borrowing someone else’s world and characters can help you practice juggling the elements of fiction in a safer environment. I never cared to write it myself, because I never thought of characters going beyond their established stories. When stories end (stories told through books, movies, TV shows—whatever), it’s usually done in my mind, too. I don’t wonder what could’ve happened later on.

I also think fanfiction is a legit way for experienced writers to use their skills to deliver more for fans of movies, books, and TV shows. Some of it might be crap, but hey, it’s not like tons of crap doesn’t get legitimately published every year anyway.

Ready of Not ended way too soon, and there were seeds planted in the story that should’ve had time to sprout into full-fledged plot lines. So, that’s what I decided I, too, could try doing the fanfiction thing. So, in December, I announced that Chapter 1 was complete…and then I never posted it. I kind of figured apart from my girlfriend and my sisters, no one would be interested. But! someone actually Googled for fanfiction of Ready or Not and landed on my blog.

So, that was my kick in the ass. Here is Chapter 1, for those who fondly remember Busy & Amanda.

Disclaimer: Busy is a lesbian, so if you’re a homophobic RoN fan, consider yourself warned!


Ready or Not: A + B

 Chapter 1: Coming Home

Amanda Zimm stands in a bedroom she’s never spent enough time in to consider her own, and realizes not only will she be leaving her mother behind, but her dreams as well. The internship position at Miller-Prince Publishing will be awarded to their second choice. The launch of Words of 2004, the anthology of short stories she co-edited, will go on without her. She’ll never get a seventh date with Luke—though that one isn’t all that sad. Still, the changes weigh heavy and though she keeps reminding herself she’s only twenty-one years old, Amanda can’t see how she’ll rebuild herself in Toronto. Even though she spent the first fifteen years of her life there, it doesn’t feel like going home. Still, there is no way she could stay here, in Vancouver. It would break her father’s heart, and besides, too much has happened here in. It’s time to go, in more ways than one.

Phyllis, Amanda’s mother, appears at the door. “Are you ready, honey?”

“Yes. I’m just…getting some closure from this place.”

Phyllis gazes at the room around Amanda, at the walls covered with framed photographs of earlier times. All memories from before—before they moved out west, before Phyllis and Stephen bought this downtown condo, before Amanda made the residence of the University of British Columbia her home.

Phyllis sidles up to her daughter and puts an arm around Amanda’s shoulders. “I just can’t believe we’re not going to see each other for so long. I’m going to miss you so much.”

“I’ll miss you too.”

“If you need anything, you call, okay? I know how your father can be—”


“I know, I know. I just don’t want you to have to struggle. This is already going to be a big adjustment, starting a new year at a new university, sharing an apartment with your father—if anything comes up, Stephen and I are a phone call away.”

“It’ll be fine. Don’t worry so much.”

Phyllis moves to face Amanda and cups Amanda’s face in her hands. “You could’ve stayed here, you know. You still can.” When Amanda sighs, Phyllis lets her arms fall to her sides. “Okay, honey. You be sure to see how Busy’s doing. Tell her I wish her and her family well.”

“I will.”

“We’re leaving in about thirty minutes.”

“Okay. I’ll be ready,” Amanda says.

Phyllis disappears, leaving Amanda alone once again. The condo already feels like it’s gone into hibernation, as if it knows its occupants are leaving for a long while. Phyllis and Stephen would soon be taking off on their yearlong cruise around the world, beginning first with a month in New York to visit Phoebe and Gregory, Amanda’s step-siblings, who had moved out there with their mother. Phoebe will be starting high school, while Gregory, several years older than Amanda, works as a set designer on Broadway. Sometimes, Amanda still finds herself longing for the theater. When she left Toronto, she seemed to have also left her love of acting behind. But still, memories of playing Juliet, in her one and only true theater production, replay in her mind. And in a mahogany frame on the desk, there is a picture of Amanda on stage, standing next to the boy who played Romeo, the same boy who broke her teenage heart. Amanda almost wants to laugh at her naiveté, as if a boy she’d spent three months calling her boyfriend could actually have meant anything to her.

Amanda studies the framed photos on the wall next to her, realizing her hair hasn’t much changed in style since grade nine, the dark blond locks reaching just past her shoulders. Apart from an upgraded wardrobe, she could pass for the same old Amanda Zimm. She wonders who she might run into once back in Toronto, what they’ll see when they look at her. Her dad won’t notice anything. He hasn’t known Amanda in years, which she likes to think is a big part of the reason she’s going back now. Sure, Leonard’s been more insistent about reconnecting in the last year, constantly sending his daughter emails asking about her life and offering to buy her a plane ticket to visit, even though they both know he can’t afford it. But more than anything, Amanda needs to get away from this place, from the path she’s been on that has been threatening to turn her into someone totally unrecognizable, even to herself. Leonard Zimm would never suspect anything was off about his daughter. He’ll just be glad to have her back.

Her former best friend Busy, however, is another story. Busy—well, she might notice something’s not right. Although they haven’t seen each other in six years. Apart from the occasional MySpace exchanges, they’re barely even friends anymore. And besides Busy, there is no one from the old life Amanda could see herself wanting to catch up with.

Maybe…just maybe this can be a fresh start. A fresh start in a familiar place.

It will have to do. It’s all there is.


What the hell is a girl supposed to do when she becomes a vegetarian and works part-time at her father’s butcher shop? Busy finishes wrapping Mrs. Vincenzo’s usual order of two pigs’ feet while that question runs through her mind. Busy is a butcher’s daughter. She’s always been a butcher’s daughter. She’s spent a huge chunk of her life hanging out and working at Ramone’s Meats & Deli. The shop, decorated in carcasses and blood, feels like home. The whole thing is a mess.

Busy hands the bundle to her father and decides she needs air. She rips off her apron, yells “I’m going on break!” and stalks off to the back room, pounding through the door and into the alley. Busy wedges a rock between the frame and the door to keep it from closing and locking her out. Three months ago, she gave up eating anything with a face. She figured after having worked at the butchery since being a kid, she’d still be able to carry on with it. It’s not like she’s responsible for all the slaughtering going on. It’ll still go on whether she’s wrapping up salami or not. Except the more the days go by, the more at odds her lifestyle change and her employment are becoming.

The back door opens, and the boss pokes his head out. “Hey—you gonna come back in here and do your job, Busy?”

“Dad, I’m on break!”

“Yeah, yeah, you take a break whenever you feel like it. Do I take a break, huh?”

“You could if you wanted to.”

He shakes his head and sighs. “Your hair. It looks crazy. I told you you can’t serve my customers like that.”

“They like my hair,” Busy says, running her fingers through the long crest of hair that starts off as a widow’s peak then defies gravity going up and forward by five inches. The rest of her dark brown locks are clipped short.

“You look like a damn delinquent with that earring under your lip.” His black eyebrows slant with the stern expression Sam Ramone always wears so well. “What are you doing, what is that? Are you smoking?”

“What?” Busy holds out her cell phone, a brand new Motorola RAZR that took months to save up for. “I’m checking my messages.”

“Get you butt back inside in ten, you got it? I’m not kidding around.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Sam kicks the rock into the alley and goes back inside, letting the door slam shut.

“Great,” Busy says, pulling out a pack of cigarettes from her back pocket and lighting one. With the other hand, she scrolls through her cell phone alerts. Three texts from Sag about what was going on Saturday night, and one missed call from Maxine. Busy makes a face at her phone, as though it can register her annoyance. Things are getting complicated with Maxine and the urge to bolt is creeping up in Busy. She could always bail on tomorrow night. Sag would call her a coward and laugh at her.

Busy laughed at him when he suggested they start a karaoke business. It felt like such a cheesy, amateur move for two people studying audio production at Soundbeats Institute. Busy stuck with her guaranteed income, however small it may be, while Sag went ahead with the karaoke venture. Now, he makes more way money than she does, hosting regular karaoke gigs in clubs and bars around Toronto, plus he books private events. Who knew the people of the world still wanted to belt out scary renditions of diva songs to one another? The thing is, trying to quit working here would cause Busy such a damn headache. Her dad would be pissed for weeks, trying to find a replacement—even though he spends most of his time acting like Busy’s the worst employee of all times. Or he’d try to guilt Manny into coming back, which would be bad for everyone involved. Frankie’s safe because of his full-time job at the bank. And Dom, well he’s still somewhere in Europe, doing his soul-searching nomad thing. Three useless and/or unavailable older brothers means it all falls Busy. As usual.

But the meat… It’s everywhere, all up in Busy’s face, making her feel like shit about being the one slicing it, weighing it, wrapping it, and taking money for it.


“Shit!” Busy trips over that rock with her startled feet and fumbles keeping her grasp on the phone while simultaneously trying to hide the cigarette from Sheila, Manny’s wife. “Sorry. You scared me.”

“No, I’m sorry. I picked up Manny’s salami and your father told me you were back here.”

“Yeah, on a break. What’s up?”

“Are you free tomorrow? Manny and I were hoping for a night out.”

“Babysitting?” Busy asks, unable to hide her less-than-thrilled tone.

“If you’re busy, that’s fine. I just thought I’d ask, in case you were looking to make a few extra dollars.”

Sheila gives one of her it’s-no-big-deal smiles and brushes her blond hair back. Meanwhile, Busy feels like crap for being so annoyed by the offer—except obviously she’d never be able to accept money for watching her nieces and nephews, even if they are a pack of rabid dogs. Busy’s mother would make her feel guilty for it. But the alternative is another weird date with Maxine. Slicing meat sounds like a better choice than either of those two at the moment.

“Well…what about my mom?”

“I think we tired her out last weekend. The baby’s got colics and Gina’s getting into everything, you know. It’s okay, Busy, really. Manny and I can have a nice evening at home.”

“It’s just that…well, Amanda’s moving back today. I said I’d go and help her get settled.”

“Amanda Zimm? That’s great, Busy! Best friends reunited, huh?”

Busy stretches her lips into an awkward smile. “Uh…yeah. Totally.”

“Well, tell her hi from us. It would be great if you two came over for dinner one day. Maybe next week? I bet she’d love to see the kids.”

If Amanda is anything like she used to be, then that was probably an accurate observation. But Busy doesn’t actually have any plans to go meet up with her. She just got a message from Amanda through MySpace a couple weeks ago letting her know Amanda was flying back to Toronto today and that sometime soon, they should “meet up for coffee, or something.” They haven’t talked on the phone about it. They haven’t heard each other’s voices in years. When Amanda first moved out west, she promised she and Busy would keep in touch, that they’d keep their friendship alive. They’d even talked about Busy flying out to Vancouver for a visit. But none of it happened. Life went on and they both became different people. What were they supposed to do, become pen pals? The moment Amanda moved, their friendship died, just like Busy knew it would.

And yeah, years later, Busy’s still pretty pissed off about it, though she’s not sure why she still cares so much.


Three years—that’s how long it’s been since Amanda’s seen her father. Something happened in those three years because he looks old now. His hair is more salt than pepper, and his cheeks seem sunken in. Gaunt—that’s the word for it. But he’s only in his late forties; he shouldn’t look this way, should he? Although Amanda has to admit that whenever she’d think of her father, she’d picture him as he was before she moved away, when she was still seeing him fairly regularly. Of course he’s changed, and of course it would surprise her.

“Amanda!” Leonard wraps his arms around her, while surrounding the two of them are passengers pulling their suitcases off the baggage claim conveyor belt. “I missed you so much.”

“Hi, Dad.”

“How was your flight? Are you hungry? I got everything to make you my famous spaghetti—remember? How long has it been.”

“A long time.”

Amanda doesn’t have the heart to tell him she’s forever watching her carb intake. She experienced the Freshman Fifteen last fall and has no plans on going back there again, forced to cycle through her three pairs of leggings because her jeans and slacks wouldn’t go over her butt. By cutting out the bread and pasta, she got rid of the fifteen plus an extra five. She feels light again. Her mother insisted she went overboard, but Amanda wasn’t concerned with her opinion.

Leonard starts them off toward the airport exit, wheeling a suitcase at each side, while Amanda pulls the third suitcase and hoists her carry-on over a shoulder.

“I didn’t really do much to your room. I figured you’d like to arrange it the way you want. Your bed and the chest of drawers are still in there. We can go to Ikea next week and get you some furniture.”

“Great, thanks. I’m sure it’s fine the way it is.”

Leonard halts when they reach the crosswalk to the parking garage and turns to give Amanda another long look. “I’m so glad you’re here, honey. Look at you, you’re all grown up. When did that happen?”

Amanda shrugs and allows herself to get lost in her dad’s embrace, remembering before. When he and Phyllis were still together, when they lived in a house and not apartments and condos, when Busy would ride her bike over so they could lie on Amanda’s bedroom floor and listen to tapes of U4EA while doing their Math homework. Was life really so much better then? Did Amanda peak at twelve years old? Sometimes it feels like it. Sometimes Amanda feels incredibly juvenile for entertaining such dark thoughts. Maybe if she was still into poetry, she could let the darkness out in a quatrain, or a sonnet even. But Amanda’s thing now is fiction. Making things up, because life is so much better when it’s made up.

God, when did she become so melodramatic?

In her father’s aging Toyota, Amanda rests her head against the passenger side window, waiting for the streets to become familiar. It doesn’t take long before it hits, the mixture of apprehension and nostalgia. The closer they get to the apartment on the west end of the city, the more Amanda longs for their destination to be the old house. But why? There’s nothing there anymore.

At the apartment, Amanda takes in the few changes—the different sofa, the computer desk at the far end of the living room, and the light weights and exercise ball in the spot where a dining room table would be.

“Trying to work a little exercise into my day, you know to keep myself from getting too much of a belly.” He pats his gut as though he thinks there really is extra weight there. Leonard has always been a tall, strong man, but now he seems to be wearing thin. Amanda nods before wheeling her suitcases into her new-old bedroom.

“I used to hate this room, remember?”

“You hated that I left, that I was living here now.”

“Dad, are you okay? You seem kind of…tired.”

“I am. Inventory at the store’s been keeping me busy. How ‘bout that spaghetti?” He grins and moves to open the curtains, letting in the evening light. Amanda lost three hours with the time zone change, and it feels like a long way from dinner time.


“We have air conditioning here. The summer’s been so hot. Do you remember how to work the thermostat?”



Leonard lingers until Amanda grows awkward, standing among her suitcases, not sure what to do next. Unpacking would seem like a good place to start, but she’s not feeling it. She’s not feeling like spaghetti either. It’s too late to call customer service and have her Palm Treo smartphone flipped over from Vancouver to Toronto. “Um, Dad? Do you mind if I go for a walk? I kind of want to stretch my legs and see how things have changed.”

“Sure, honey. You want me to come with you?” When she shakes her head, he seems relieved. “I’ll just make some dinner and keep a plate for when you get back.”


Amanda takes her toiletries to the cramped bathroom to freshen up, washing her face and reapplying the powder on her eyes and the red on her lips. In her room, she digs in a suitcase and comes up with a fresh black tank and slips her feet in a pair of sandals. Her purse over her shoulder, Amanda takes the elevator to the street and heads down a familiar route. It’s different but it’s still the same. It hasn’t been that long after all. When her feet get tired, Amanda hops on a bus, then another.

She didn’t consciously decided to come by the old house, but here she is now, staring at the unfamiliar cars in the driveway. The color of the garage is all wrong, and there’s a long porch that wraps around to the side now. In the window of what used to be her bedroom, a bamboo curtain hangs, obscuring the view inside. This place is boring, just like Amanda used to be. Just like she longs to be again. To forget about the excitement she sought and ended up getting too much of in Vancouver.

Unsure of what she’d been expecting, Amanda walks to the end of the street, pushing the homesick feeling down.

What is she homesick for, anyway?


Friday night, mowing the lawn. This is the kind of bullshit evening Busy has arranged for herself by forgetting to cut the lawn yesterday, when her dad asked her to. Sag is almost lucky, sharing an apartment with two other guys, but Busy would’ve never had the guts to answer an ad by total strangers looking for roommates. One of them is a coke-head, and the other has a crush on Busy, which is creepy as hell. It’s even creepier that Sag has a crush on him because apparently, this guy has a “beautifully complex mind.”

Busy can’t complain too much, because when Frankie moved out a few months ago, she got the basement. It’s her very own place, and it looks a whole lot better since Manny did all this work to it back when he and Sheila lived there. There’s a separate entrance at the side of the house now. Her parents still expect her to come up for dinner every night and wash the dishes. It makes sense, though, because it’s not like Busy pays rent. Which is a feat, because Sam Ramone would only allow the kids to stay on rent-free if they’re in college, or saving up for a down-payment for a house like Manny had done, and Sam barely considers Busy’s program at Soundbeats Institute to be a legit college experience. Even her mother, Lucy, can’t hide her disappointment that Busy isn’t going to a “real” college. As if Busy would ever get the kind of training and education in sound production that Soundbeats Institute provides anywhere else. Busy wants to be a songwriter, produce music, and she wants to be a professional drummer. She’s already wasted enough time, never sticking with piano lessons as a kid, never learning music theory. The only thing she did right is decide to go to the William Riley School for the Arts, the special performing arts high school she’d been accepted to—and almost bailed on just to be able to go to the same high school as Amanda Zimm, except Amanda ended up moving away just before that. Anyway, Busy works hard and yeah, her parents are proud of her, but they just don’t get it. Whatever. They never got it.

So every week, Busy takes the mower around the property that holds the only home she’s ever known, in the west-end suburbs of Toronto. It’s a humid July evening, but when one’s hair is coated in a generous layer of extra-hold hair spray, there’s no danger of frizz, even for thick Italian hair. Busy’s black t-shirt sleeves are rolled up to her shoulders and the front is half-tucked into her faded, ripped-at-the-knees jeans.Tonight calls for an iPod playlist of Electropop and Synthpop—auditory studying, as Busy likes to think of it. She’s working her way from the ‘80s—with some Duran Duran, Human League, Tears for Fears, and Erasure—to what’s hot now—Ladytron, The Postal Service, and this album that just came out last month, Hot Fuss, by this new band The Killers. With that stuff pumping in her ears, Busy goes on autopilot, the lawn-mowing fading into the background.

Busy goes up and down the front lawn for a while, stopping to break into a drum solo when the beat calls to her. One day, she’ll save up enough cash to get a new set of Roland V-Drums, Busy’s dream electronic drum kit, which cost as much as a car. For now, she’s got a lower-end set that still does the job, but V-Drums would totally kick ass.

The front lawn completely buzzed, Busy wanders to the front steps, parking her ass there to chug on her water bottle. It’s nearly nine and the sun is starting to fade. Water dribbles down Busy’s chin, fat drops landing on her shirt. She swipes her forearm against her chin just as her eyes settle on the girl walking up the sidewalk to the right. The girl looks over at Busy and stops. Just for a moment, Busy wonders if she’s hallucinating, seeing similarities between a girl from the past and someone totally random. But when the girl smiles, red lips making way for perfectly straight, white teeth, Busy knows it’s real, and whatever is happening, it’s beautiful.

Right there, in front of the neighbor’s house, stands Amanda Zimm.


Amanda feels clumsy in her sandals, like she could trip over an imaginary rock and tumble to the ground—right there in front of Busy. Busy Ramone who looks so different, yet so…right. Her bare arms still pasty white as ever, but now defined in a way that hints at some kind of weight-lifting routine. Amanda had almost expected to see the thick locks of dark hair, reaching just past Busy’s ears, and blow-dried back. But the way it is now suits her face, suits her. Amanda was prepared to simply pass by, expecting to be satisfied by seeing the Ramone house. Seeing this house sparks more emotion in Amanda than her own childhood home did. How much of it had to do with her former best friend being right there, heading over to meet her on the sidewalk.


That voice—it’s definitely Busy. Amanda smiles again and gives a little shrug. “Hi, Busy.”

“You walked here?”

“I’ve been sightseeing. Went by my old house, then to the park.”

Busy stops a few feet away, slipping her hands in her back pockets. Amanda can feel herself returning the mixture of awkwardness, surprise, and glee that can be seen on Busy’s face. At one time, they wouldn’t have hesitated to hug, but now, Busy nods while Amanda fidgets.

“Well, welcome back,” Busy says.

“Thanks. How are you?”

“Good, you know… Uh, you? How are you? When did you get back?”

“I’m fine. Just a few hours ago, actually. I probably should be unpacking, but…”

“How’s your dad?”

“He’s…fine, I guess. I mean, it’s been a while since I’ve seen him.”

“I thought he did business in Vancouver a lot.”

“The first few years he did, but then there were cutbacks. He works in department store now, in the electronics section. It’s…not ideal, but it’s employment, I guess.”

Busy looks down, her mouth frowning in that familiar way that suggests she’s not sure how to put a positive spin on an unfortunate situation. She sighs and tries again: “Your mom? And Stephen?”

“She’s good. They’re both great. Just heading off on some cruise around the world now. It’s supposed to be very romantic, and very lengthy.”

Busy laughs. “For real? Wow. How did that happen?”

The catch-up continues, with Amanda filling Busy in on Stephen’s business success, leaving the jingle-writing to go back to engineering, his original career. The conversation then moves over to Busy’s side. Hearing how much life has changed for the Ramones sounds unbelievable to Amanda, almost as though she’d expected to come back to learn that life had stood still for them. Manny with so many kids, Frankie graduated from university and working toward an executive position at a bank. So much happened.

“Oh, and Dom’s bipolar. He tried to go back to school for a while but he still couldn’t handle it. He stayed here in his old bedroom and for like, three months all he did was sleep. So, my mom took him to the doctor. That’s when they found out what was up. He was on meds for a while, and he seemed better, but then he took off to Europe to backpack almost two years ago. He would’ve run out of drugs by now, but whatever. He calls every few months.”

“Oh my god, Busy. That’s…crazy!”


“You parents must be…”

“They’re getting used to it now, but my mom worries, and, well, you know my dad. He’s extra cranky for a few days after Dom calls.” Busy points a thumb to the house. “Hey, you wanna sit or something? Do you have to take off?”

Leonard is home, probably keeping the pasta warm, maybe anxious to catch up with his daughter. But Busy is right there. It’s been so long since Busy was right there.

“I can stay.”


Amanda nods and follows Busy up to the front steps where they sit, leaving enough space between them to allow for the awkwardness. In their old life, Amanda would’ve been the one to talk Busy’s ear off, and Busy might’ve been more reserved. The truth is, if Amanda wasn’t insisting on keeping her guard up, keeping things professional, this—being next to Busy and talking—might be the most natural thing in the world. Is Busy feeling odd? It’s hard to tell. She seems so laid-back. Not that Busy was uptight before, but she seems…free, happy.

A little bit of it sprinkles on Amanda, and that feeling she’s been hoping for, that confirmation that this place still means something to her, nudges her mind, then her heart. Maybe it’s Busy. Maybe Amanda’s forgotten what it’s like to have a friend. A true friend who knows all of you. Well, almost all—six years is a long time.

“You look good, Amanda.”

“So do you.”

There’s a pause, a nervous chuckle from each of them. And right there, as Busy dives into a story about her uncle Pasquale, Amanda realizes that if there is a chance to get it all back, then that chance would be enough for Amanda to be all in. The realization triggers a rise in Amanda’s heart rate, and a stinging in her eyes. What if in order to get back to where they were, Amanda has to admit once and for all that she’s not perfect? And worse, what if their friendship isn’t even worth it to Busy?

Maybe tomorrow, or next week, she’ll have the courage to ask. But for tonight, this is enough. It’s…perfect.


Lambda Literary Writers Retreat 2014

(This is taken from my blog.)

The information for the 2014 Lambda Literary Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices was just released. I’m thinking of going again, but not as a fellow of one of the workshop programs. This year, Lambda is welcoming past fellows at a reduced tuition, giving them the option of participating in social events, attending lectures, with room & board included. I really, really like that idea. Here’s why: Any retreat or workshop I might want to do will cost quite a bit of money. These things are pricy, no matter how you do them. But, what I can get from Lambda is priceless. I get to make connections with other queer writers, learn about queer things, and be in California. And you know what? I really freakin’ liked the cafeteria food at the American Jewish University. So, I’m really considering it.

The 2013 Lambda retreat did so much for my career as a writer. First off, I met and worked with Malinda Lo (still surreal…). I also met and connected with so many queer writers, some of whom I’m pretty sure I’ll be in touch with for a long time. Since coming back from last summer’s retreat, my growth as a queer writer has spurted like crazy. This is probably the most drastic change that’s happened to me, in terms of personal growth and maturity, and it can all be traced back to my acceptance to the retreat. I am not the same person I was last winter, when I applied to the retreat. I still remember composing my application essay, bemoaning my lack of knowledge in anything related to the queer community. I knew one thing: that I knew nothing.

Since the Lambda retreat, I’ve also realized that I wasn’t ready to tell the story of my main character as well as it should be told. I wouldn’t have done her justice, because her identity is complex as shit and I wasn’t in a place where I could understand her lived experience, or how to report it accurately enough for readers to absorb as truth. I’ve flipped back and forth on Pen’s characterization and identity so much. See, she’s allowed to flip like that—I’m not. I was working with a narrow understanding, which means I was forcing her to live inside that tiny world with limited possibilities. Not cool.

I’m really curious to know how much I could take out of the Lambda retreat now that I’ve gained all this knowledge and this new perspective on life.

So…I’m thinking of going again. And I’m thinking flights are expensive!

On My Bookshelf: Queerness & Gender

*This is from my blog.*

Not that long ago, before the snow and Durham Region power outages happened, I was in California at the Lambda Literary Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices. I was learning stuff, and realizing I didn’t know a lot of stuff. I was also realizing I was confused about things I was taught to take as absolutely true about life for us as humans. In some ways, I was even more confused coming back from the retreat. I was annoyed at how difficult it is to acquire knowledge on these two very important subjects: queerness and gender. It’s annoying because certain things most of us have learned to accept as fact are being challenged with queer theory and gender theory. It’s annoying because there are all kinds of views and interpretations of the information that’s out there, and sometimes contradicting views sound equally “right.” It’s annoying because there are a lot of angry, vocal people out there making this learning process intimidating. It’s annoying because it’s not all figured out yet and things keep changing. It’s annoying because concepts and elements one would assume to be pretty basic and sound, such as terminology and definitions, are not universal, not utilized in the same manner—and it’s not easy to find out why that is. It’s annoying because trying to talk to people about these two topics can lead to arguments because emotions are involved and people forget they’re not at the same place at the same time, holding the same amount of knowledge and similar life experiences within.

So, one who’s interested in these two major topics has to really start digging, start talking to people, start reading all kinds of texts that explore, deconstruct, and clarify the information available to us. This is what I’m focused on right now, just reading and discussing. I’m trying to take stuff from various sources. I want the academic material, the lived-experience accounts, the ignorant rants, the stuff written in the ’90s, the stuff written today, the historical information. And I wanna talk about it, to learn to articulate it, to hear if I’m making sense, to learn to discuss it and even argue about it.

Maybe there are some of you out there who are also starting on your journey into queer and gender enlightenment. Maybe you’re all confused and annoyed like I was (still am, sometimes). Maybe you have no idea where to start. So, I’ve decided to share what’s on my bookshelf as I move through my own journey. Maybe one of the books/sources I’ll share will end up being just what you need to start forming your own understanding of sex, gender, queerness, sexual orientation—all that good stuff. Here we go with the first one:

Genderqueer: Voices from Beyond the Sexual Binary, edited by Joan Nestle, Clare Howell, and Riki Wilchins


About the book: Perhaps more than any other issue, gender identity has galvanized the queer community in recent years. The questions go beyond the nature of male/female to a yet-to-be-traversed region that lies somewhere between and beyond biologically determined gender. In this groundbreaking anthology, three experts in gender studies and politics navigate around rigid, societally imposed concepts of two genders to discover and illuminate the limitless possibilities of identity. Thirty first-person accounts of gender construction, exploration, and questioning provide a groundwork for cultural discussion, political action, and even greater possibilities of autonomous gender choices. Noted scholar Joan Nestle is joined by internationally prominent gender warrior Riki Anne Wilchins and historian Clare Howell to provide a societal, cultural, and political exploration of gender identity. (Check out its Goodreads page.)

Why I wanted to read it: I put this book on my Goodreads “Want to Read” shelf almost two years ago, after doing an online search for books to check out. What kept me from getting my hands on a copy is its price. The publisher, Alyson Books, dropped its print program a couple years ago to restructure into producing only e-books, so a lot of their titles are out-of-print. As of yet, I don’t think there’s been news about Alyson Books releasing any e-books

After a debate/discussion occurred on my Facebook in regards to gender norms, a fellow from the Lambda retreat suggested this book as a good place to start, when it comes to learning about queerness and gender. So, I searched Amazon until I found a copy that was less than $100 (some new copies go for upwards of $500!). It’s not even a big book, either. I’d expected a heavy tome or something. It’s just a 300-page paperback. Do not let that discourage you: This book is worth the money. From the first essay, it blew my mind. I’m close to the end now and it almost makes me wish I’d gotten this book two years ago, when I’d first heard of it.

What I liked about it: You might think you’re in for a series of essays about trans* issues, mostly focused on transsexuality. That’s what I thought. But the first essay, by Joan Nestle, touches on her initial feelings of not being a suitable voice for this book because she was “born a woman and remain a biological and gender-identified woman.” That eased my mind instantly. And then I hit the essays by Riki Wilchins. They were so packed with amazing information and insight that it took me days to get through them. Line by line, I’d have to stop and contemplate, look things up in the dictionary, look things up online. Her essay “Deconstructing Trans” was so awesome. My mouth was hung open the entire time. After these mind-blowing essays, we move to more personal stories from the many contributors. When they say “voices from beyond the sexual binary,” they’re not kidding. Butches who continue to identify as women, butches who transitioned to men, lesbians, genderqueer individuals, lesbians whose partners transitioned, queer individuals who move between man and woman or just do both. There was something for me in every single story. It mentioned many contemporary events and names associated with queer history, which pointed me to new things to look up. Though the book was published in 2002, if someone had told me it had been published this year, I would’ve believed it. It all feels highly relevant. Even more than that, it seems to make certain things clear that feel a bit muddled right now, because of the way they’re being discussed in the media and online, and the way they’re portrayed on TV and in books.

If you’re serious about expanding your knowledge and understanding of queerness and gender (and everything that goes with it, consider getting this book.

Let’s Reboot Ready or Not, Shall we?

(I’ve taken this from my blog.)

The show:
Thanks to YouTube, one of my childhood TV shows is now accessible again. Ready or Not was a Canadian half-hour show centered around two best friends, Busy (Lani Billard) and Amanda (Laura Bertram), navigating life through the preteen years, into their early teens. It aired from 1993 to 1997 in Canada and the US.

I remember watching this show anytime it was on—for real. I’m talking reruns, over and over. I never watched it in order because we didn’t always have cable, and I never really followed programming schedules; I just caught shows whenever. So, for that reason, I’d never seen the last few episodes before the series was canceled.

Why it rocked:
Here’s the thing about this show: It was freaking groundbreaking. No show today would ever be able to tackle issues the way this show did. I don’t think anyone could watch a few episodes and not end up totally captivated. I recently began watching the series from the beginning on YouTube and I’m realizing just how excellent this show truly is, in ways my preteen brain just couldn’t pick up on.

Let’s talk about gender:
What’s been blowing my mind is the characterization of the two main characters, Busy and Amanda. Two girls, two very different ways of expressing their gender. Amanda is a stereotypical “girl.” I don’t need to explain how because we can all imagine how girls are supposed to be, and that’ll give us a basic idea of Amanda. Not that she’s a stereotype—I’m speaking generally here. Amanda is a charming, proper girl. Busy would be a stereotypical tomboy, speaking generally, once again. Throughout the series, the girls are often at odds with each other because of the difference in the way they express their femininity. Amanda wants to wear frilly sleeves and read romantic poetry, Busy wants to play basketball and wear baggy sweatshirts.

The queer factor:
As I watch now, I’m seeing things in these characters that I wasn’t seeing as a young viewer. Amanda is so open-minded and empathetic. Some of the “girl” things she was so focused on would sometimes seem funny to my younger self, kind of cheesy; I’m realizing now that she was a highly-intelligent, deep person destined to do great things—if she doesn’t end up standing in her own way.

Busy is such a badass girl. To me, she’s queer. I think as she was growing up, she was really starting to blossom into a little lesbian who was going to defy gender expectations without realizing that’s what she was doing.

I don’t think any of this was by accident. I think the writers had to have seen where this was headed. There was so much romantic tension between Busy and Amanda. I can’t count how many times I thought they were going to kiss in some scenes. It got to the point where my girlfriend and I would yell at the TV, “Just kiss! Just kiss and it’ll all become clear!”

Then they took it all away:
Something bizarre happened in the last season of the show. Suddenly, Busy began to conform to gender expectations. Busy started wearing flowery outfits—blouses and dresses! I mean, this is the Busy who was forced to wear some gaudy bridesmaid dress that prompted one of her brothers to say she looked like “a linebacker in drag.” In the last season of the show, Busy lost what made her insanely awesome. She dated so many boys, I couldn’t even keep up with it. It’s like the writers took Busy’s character and tried to erase the queer out of her. I don’t know if they were ready to tackle that major issue: when one best friend comes out as queer to the other best friend. Who knows why this happened, if it was the writers, the network (US television, perhaps?), or the actor herself. Bottom line is: They were onto something huge with this show and then it not only ended, but it was erased.

I would’ve loved to have seen Busy come out. To see how that would’ve affected the friendship. To see how Busy’s strict European family would’ve handled it.

True love:
See, I think Busy and Amanda belong together. I think they’re soul mates. Evidence: When Troy gave Busy his grandmother’s ring, she acted all weirded out by it. She basically wanted nothing to do with that kind of gesture from a boyfriend. But when Amanda gave Busy a ring, Busy took it. It meant something; so much so, that when she lost it, Busy couldn’t handle it.

I just wanted one of those longing looks to turn into a kiss—just once!

The series closed with Busy and Amanda sort of reconnecting (after Busy’s ridiculous trip into Stereotypical Girl World) but with Amanda moving to the other end of the country. The friendship was going to break up. I can’t handle that thought. I can’t live with that being the end of Ready or Not, with that being the end of Busy and Amanda.

Ready or Not shows up in my writing:
Last week, I was editing my young adult manuscript Boifriend and I realized I unknowingly gave a nod to Ready or Not by whipping up a friendship between my main character Pen, a Busy-like tomboy from a European family, and Olivia, a proper Amanda-like girl with divorced parents. In one scene, Pen and Olivia have lunch at school, with Pen giving Olivia half of her peanut-butter sandwich to save her from having to eat this seven-grain salad, and I thought, Holy sh*t, I just gave Pen and Olivia a Busy-and-Amanda moment. I had no conscious thought of this show while I created the story and characters for Boifriend, but evidently, the show has been with me on a subconscious level.

Fanfiction reboot?
This show was too special. It can’t be the end of Ready or Not, even if it technically happened way back in 1997. I’m a fiction writer, which means I make up stories all the time. I have the power to breathe life into fictional people. So…I decided to try out this fanfiction thing. I decided to take this story and continue it. To take it to where I think it should go. The story picks up in 2004, after six years of Busy and Amanda being apart. (I guess this would qualify as New Adult fanfiction, since the girls are now in college.)

So, stay tuned because soon, I’ll be posting the first story/chapter to the Ready or Not fanfiction reboot. And please, spread the word to anyone you know who might remember this kickass show and want to experience it again!

Paul Walker, Social Media, and Death

Taken from my website blog.

I don’t often update my personal blog, mostly because I just can’t behind blogging just for the sake of blogging. I already have enough chores to procrastinate and whine about. But once in a while, I get some thoughts on a particular subject, and then more thoughts follow that one, and then it starts to become a blog post in my mind. Because otherwise, I’d have to let them disappear and then…well, that’s not the time we’re in right now. We’re in the “use your public platform and shout out every single thought in your head!” So, that’s what I’m going to do now.

So, Paul Walker died.

I had some initial thoughts when I started seeing mention of it on my Facebook news feed: I thought, Well, this is obviously bullsh*t. How many times has Morgan Freeman died now? Then I thought, Sh*t, Paul Walker’s 40? so that made me think about how old I’m getting. And then, when reputable news sources confirmed the story, I thought, Holy sh*t…did he have any kids? because that was always one of my worst-imaginable fears growing up, losing my parents. Then I thought, Man…did he have a significant other? What about his parents? So, overall, it was a shock.

And now I’m seeing these images shared via social media, with messages along the lines of “R.I.P. to the other guy in the car with Paul Walker, who’s getting no recognition because he wasn’t famous.” This sparked a number of posts and articles about The Other Person, to try and satisfy people’s curiosity about who this man was so that…so that what? So that we’ll feel like insensitive douchebags? So that we can bring his name to the top of Google’s searches for the name “Roger”?

This whole thing pisses me off a little.

A fact about me: I read the local obits, usually right before I go to bed. I pull up the daily obits for the area I live in, and I read every single one. I don’t do this everyday, because a lot of times I’m ready to close my eyes as soon as my head hits the pillow, but I do it often. And when I haven’t done it for a while, I’ll scroll all the way back to the where I left off. I find out a lot of really interesting information that way—like there was a woman living in my region who was a survivor of the Holodomor (the Ukrainian extermination by hunger). I learn about all of the people I could be crossing paths with at the gas station who are devastated at losing someone. I’m reminded that parents lose babies, teens lose their boyfriends/girlfriends, young college students die of cancer, and many people die after super-long lives. And if there are pictures provided, I learn that they had faces. Regular faces.

I’m not making a mind-blowing observation here by saying that it’s not possible for each of us to know who all the other people are on earth. There have been several horrific car crashes in the Toronto area lately—many who are quite similar to the one that took the lives of Paul Walker and Roger Rodas (The Other Guy). So, my question to those who post their thoughts about forgetting the “other guy in the car because he wasn’t famous” as though it was a reproach, a way to make the rest of us feel like bad little humans for only reacting to the actor’s death, do you care about the deaths going on around you? The lady who used to serve you coffee on the way to work could’ve died and not just quit, like you assumed. Do you read the obits and pay your respects for all those who die, every single second of every day?

No. Of course not. Because that would be ridiculous. That would likely land you in a padded room. Already I’m sure people would think it’s weird I read about the deaths of locals. That I sometimes check out their “R.I.P” Facebook groups to see them in pictures, so that I can get my head nice and confused over the fact that people—people sometimes really geographically close to me—were alive and now they’re not, and I never knew them anyway. That’s a mind-f*ck. So, I give a lot of thoughts to the fact that so many people die everyday that most of us don’t know about—mainly that that’s just life.

So, basically, shame on you, people who think it’s cool to make yourself stick out with your reprimanding of people for supposedly not “caring” about anyone but The Famous Guy. The famous guy, Paul Walker, is someone a lot of people knew, or know of. He’s been in so many movies I love (Running Scared, in particular), so yeah, his death shocked me and it sent a ripple of reality all the way to my little world. Unfortunately, I didn’t give much thought to who was driving the car beyond the initial “two people lost their lives and that’s awful.” We all have our own ecosystems, which include many people: our friends, families, coworkers, acquaintances, people by association—but also people we’ve never met, like actors and authors, and even characters on TV (The Walking Dead, anyone?). These are people who each have a little spot in our hearts because we know them, they each have a face in our minds. So, Roger Rodas had his own ecosystem of humans who are dying right now at the fact that they lost him. It’s pretty empty and fake to try and force fans and curious readers out there to go around mourning a man they only found out about through his death coinciding with a famous person’s death. He was famous to his own people. He probably has enough tears shed for him. It’s an insult to try and make his death alongside an actor mean something more just because of the actor-factor. Do any of you know what Roger did a lot of charity work? Now you do, only because he died with The Famous Guy and has become an interesting social media topic. See, this whole thing becomes a mind-f*ck because you can’t go back in time and “know” someone who’s died already. It’s too late to pretend you’re sad they’re gone. Wanting to spread awareness about someone you know who’s died is one thing, but trying to shame people into caring by making a statement on pop culture and what it means to be a celebrity is disrespectful.

There are different levels of loss and mourning, I think. The loss you feel at a friend’s parent dying, and the loss you feel at losing your precious dog are completely different. The loss of your co-worker, and the loss of a celebrity you were a fan of are also completely different. But, I think trying shame people into feeling like cold-hearted pricks for how they react to death surrounding famous public figures is fake and pathetic. It’s meaningless. People die all the time and it’s always sad and it means different things to different people. Just be sad, in whatever way it comes, and pay your respects, and leave it at that.

Don’t force it, don’t fake it, or else it’s just a big joke. And death is never a joke.

One of the most popular ways people like to hate teenage girls is to complain about their “insane” crushes on boy band members. Now, let me fucking tell you something: those big dumb crushes are what helps a teenage girl develop her sexuality in a safe environment that she can control. In her world, she can listen to One Direction and hear all these songs about how great she is, and how much these cute non-threatening boys want to make her feel special. Why is this so important? Because no one is pushing them. There’s no fourteen year old boy shoving his clammy hands down your shirt without your consent. These fantasy boys are not convincing a girl to send naked pictures, only to show all their friends and call her a slut. In the fantasy land of boy bands, the girl has all the power. And we need to stop judging them for wanting to escape into that.
A passage from ‘Why I Fucking Love Teenage Girls (A Personal Essay From An Almost Adult)’ (via kissngluke)

Agree. Some of my best times as a teen was all the angsty agonizing over “He doesn’t even know I exist…!” which I would offset with long fantasy scenarios. I’m looking at you, Matthew Lawrence. ;-) And then there’s the “AJ’s singing JUST for me. I would never play games with his heart.” It really is a safe way to explore your ideas on romance and sex as a teen girl.
~ M-E Girard

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