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Do we need “diverse” books?

Tamara Woods, an author I follow on Youtube, put out a video today on a super fascinating topic: the issue of diversity in books.

She offers a thoughtful counter-opinion to the idea that the more diverse a book is, the better, saying it can be super awkward when authors drop random minorities into their storylines for the sake of diversity, only to play into popular stereotypes.

First of all–shout out to Tamara, or @penpaperpad on Twitter. I really like her videos centered around her life as a writer, despite the fact that I have never considered writing anything as ambitious as a novel. I like getting a little peek into the world of an author through her channel, y’all should check it out.

I pretty much agree with her assessment. Do I think writers should never write about things other than what they know? Absolutely not–some of the best works of literature and journalism made commentary on aspects of society that were from the outside looking in. But I do think that A) writers who do want to write about people and lifestyles they’re unfamiliar with should resist all temptation to base characters off of what they assume they know, including extensive research on whichever community it is they have chosen to write about, and B) even after any writer thinks they have a demographic figured out, they should poll at least a few different people within that demographic to give an honest opinion of how they are being portrayed. Ultimately, it will boil down to whether or not the “minority” characters are humanized, and not caricatures of stereotypes, but still true to whatever identity the author is trying to portray.

It’s a lot of work. But I’d argue that any author worth their salt would do the same level of research about any town they set their story in, or if they’re writing something science-related, they would extensively research and vet their story to be sure that what they’re saying is at least plausible (giving very liberal leeway of course, to imagination). If an author were to write a historical fiction story, set during the great depression, it would behoove that author to research living conditions, clothing, and other characteristics of the time, no?

Having other people read it is key, because there are some things that certain people take for granted that others don’t. That’s what leads to those jarring moments–not just in books, but in movies, TV shows, etc.–when you can see a writer was trying to achieve something, but fell flat because they didn’t realize they were coming from such a narrow point of view. To give the example I left for Tamara on her video, I just finished reading a GREAT book, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Without giving everything away to those of you who haven’t read it, I will say the book was thoroughly enjoyable. But (and obviously, I could be wrong about Cline’s intentions) there is a part of the story that builds up to a big reveal about one of the characters, designed to shock (and perhaps delight) the reader by turning any assumption of that character’s appearance, demographic, etc. on its head.

I, however, was dismayed, not delighted, perhaps because I was coming from my own very narrow experiences. Up to that point, I’d been imagining a colorful, futuristic world painted by Cline in which there were people of all identities. But that strange and jarring buildup revealed that I was very far off base, because Cline’s world was actually a homogenous one, in which the only non-white characters up to that moment were the two Japanese guys who lived by samurai code. To be blunt, it was a let down.

Was it wrong for Cline to include this character? I don’t think so. But it could have been unwrapped a bit better, not like a cheap “SURPRISE! Gotcha didn’t I, I bet you didn’t expect this person to not only be THIS, but also THIS, and THIS. Bam.” It gave me even more of a jolt because of its sharp contrast with the voice of the story was overwhelmingly white, male and Generation X–something I’d say actually made the book better overall, because it really got you inside the protagonist’s head. (Did I mention, I loved the book?)

Personally, I think the key to #weneeddiversebooks is more diverse authors. It isn’t fair, or smart, to expect white writers to write diversity into their books. We need platforms for more diverse writers to have the opportunity to write, and act, and perform, from their point of view. And we need for the many great authors (and filmmakers, and comics, etc. etc.) of color to get the funding they need to tell REAL stories, not stories that feed into the stereotypes of their demographic which sell better–because there is no better way to humanize a “minority” character than to have that character come from the imagination of a minority.



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A Personal Re-launch


A LOT of things happened last year. Mostly for good.

Let me rewind a bit and start from the “beginning.” I have been self-publishing on various platforms since the Xanga/LiveJournal days, which other old school folks may also remember fondly. Those were great times–many of my friends caught the writing bug, and we spent hours every day reading and commenting on each others’ posts. I got to know some Internet strangers (back when that sort of thing was still an exciting/weird idea). It was all very interactive because Facebook, MySpace, Snapchat, etc. did not exist yet.

But while I enjoyed the writing and the discussion, I never had a clear idea for what my purpose was in the so-called “blogosphere.” I moved from writing on to photos and video, and I touched on anything and everything that caught my interest from fashion to rants on social issues. I was too busy getting started with my career and living my young adulthood to worry about what was, essentially, a hobby.

Well…2015 was the year everything changed. I realized that life was about more than my day job, especially if I wanted to make a difference. And I needed to turn my extracurricular self-publishing into a serious learning experience that would eventually be something I could be proud of.

Believe me when I say it was SUCH a struggle to do this, mostly because my interests were so wide-ranging that I didn’t know which to focus on. Video had become my favorite medium of expression though, and since some of my favorite Youtubers were style bloggers, I thought that might be my passion. I tried it out, and the truth is I didn’t feel motivated. I didn’t lay awake at night thinking of what my next great fashion video would be. Instead, I recorded rants about relationships, which I thought were way more fun. And I still had no idea where I was going with it all.

Then a whole bunch of things happened around the same time. My personal life got turned upside down (more on that here), and I had to move from Brazil back to New York. I decided to start a new, general topic channel, vlogged (almost) every day in April to document the entire move, and grew more determined than ever to stay with creating videos. But even as I settled in to a new home and a new position, I still wasn’t sure what I was all about as a multimedia creator, and it wasn’t until I took a day off of work and bought a ticket to StreamCon last fall that it became clear to me that I needed to figure it out.

By some measures StreamCon, the first creator conference I’ve ever attended, was a total bust. I showed up, attended a few seminars, shyly chatted with some other creators and publicists, and mostly just hid in the corner watching people clamor for the attention of famous Youtubers (whom I mostly recognized) and famous teenaged Viners (whom I did not recognize at all). I exchanged business cards with some cool people, and realized that it was really hard to carry a conversation on with a new person when A) I could’t tell them about my day job, a.k.a. where I spent the vast majority of my time, and B) I couldn’t really sum up what my identity was as a creator because I didn’t really have one. By that time, I’d made a few dozen videos, but only a handful I was proud of. It was precisely the humbling, forced self-analysis that I needed to get my ass in gear.

That is my very long way to tell the story of how I ended up spending the last few months digging deep within myself and ultimately deciding on a multimedia strategy, and on a brand. I am retiring the Hoops & High Heels style and fashion channel and focusing my other channel, itsme Lori, on what I feel I’m best at: provoking discussion around topics that matter to people. Since New Year, my videos have covered everything from travel to the Powerball and relationships. It’s only February, but I’m averaging more than one video a week so far. Not bad!

The beautiful thing about having purpose is that the content becomes more about the content, and less about things like how many people are watching. What I’ve always loved about the itsme Lori channel is interacting with subscribers (and new friends!), whereas Hoops & High Heels mostly attracted one-time viewers who’d stop by and compliment me on my appearance or my stuff. I still have fewer subscribers and fewer views on itsme Lori videos, but the ones I do get are more meaningful to me–people are watching longer and giving me more feedback.

As part of the whole effort I also launched The itsme Podcast, a monthly series in which I interview an inspiring person with a great story that would be useful to all of us who are about that hustle. The interviews, which will be posted as videos with highlights and in full audio on Soundcloud, will feature people like athletes, entrepreneurs, artists, activists and more. My first guest was ultrarunner Sky Canaves, who told the story of how she went from not running at all to completing some of the most hard core races, and competing for Team USA. Check her out even if you’re not into running. She is awe-inspiring and, as she explains in the segment, making it through a 24-hour race is more about mental strength than anything else (like most things in life)!

I am glad to say that now that I AM losing sleep over my channel. I lay awake at night brainstorming ideas, and I wake up brimming with more. This is all, obviously, very exhausting, but it’s a good exhaustion because I am inspired, motivated, and excited! And if you’re out there reading this, I really hope you are too, and will come check it out. :)



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From the Treadmill to Ultrarunning

I sat down for a coffee with a top ultra runner to talk about mental perseverance, how to overcome discouragement, recovering from injury and the fascinating world of 24+ hour races! Really inspiring stuff for anyone who’s ever tried to do something that seemed impossible.

My plan this year is take you guys to meet more inspiring people like Sky, in hopes that I can share some of their amazing stories and maybe apply a little of their wisdom and experience to our own endeavors. Don’t forget to comment, subscribe and give the video a thumbs up if you’re into that!

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My Thanksgiving Week

IMG_0107 It’s been years since I properly spent Thanksgiving in the U.S., so I went all out and took the whole week off. I didn’t waste a moment of the week, either–first I took a road trip to Montreal with my homegirl, came back in time to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, had Thanksgiving dinner with my family, put some finishing touches on my apartment, shopped all night on Black Friday, and threw a Thanksgiving-themed house warming party! Needless to say, it was exhausting…but totally worth it.






I’ll have a video up soon, but here are photos:






A sneak peek into my new place:


The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade:


Our fusion Asian-American Thanksgiving dinner (Peking Duck and Ham):


Driving home Friday morning from Woodbury Commons:


And my Thanksgiving-themed house warming party (this time with turkey):


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