Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: creative process

Brian and the cover of “Almost Perfect.”

Almost Perfect Except . . .

By Brian Katcher

Brian Katcher is a writer whom one of our usual bloggers, Jan S. Gephardt, met at the science fiction convention Archon 44 (He’s also spotlighted in Jan’s Authors of Archon 44 post). He told this story during a panel discussion in which they both participated. She asked him to share it with our audience, because it demonstrates an issue we also face. The Weird Blog and Artdog Adventures support diversity and representation. As a pair of older, middle-class white women Jan and G. at Weird Sisters Publishing understand an author can confront many challenges when they try to promote inclusivity and multicultural representation in their fiction “while white and straight.”

The Almost Perfect Story

Almost Perfect is the story of Logan, a cisgender boy, who recently had a bad breakup with his girlfriend. He then meets Sage, a new girl in his school, he thinks he’s met the person who’s going to help him move on. When he discovers she’s transgender, however, he is forced to rethink their entire relationship. Can they still be friends? Can they be…more? Almost Perfect won the 2011 Stonewall Book Award for Children’s Literature.

This book started out as a short story. I was looking to write a boy meets girl story that hadn’t been done a thousand times, and I hit upon the idea of writing about a heterosexual boy and a transgender girl. How would a relationship like that work? When I showed a draft to my writers’ group, they told me that I couldn’t do that in 80 pages. To make it into a novel or not to bother.

Brian Katcher received the 2011 Stonewall Book Award for Children's Literature.
In 2011 Brian accepted the Stonewall Book Award for Children’s Literature, for his book Almost Perfect. (Credits below).

Research and Early Responses

Well, transgenderism wasn’t a subject I’d given a lot of thought to, so I turned to the internet for research. I went to forums for transgender people and said that I was writing a book and needed information, both specific and general. Boy, did I get some great responses. And the more I heard, the more I wanted to tell this story. The overwhelming theme I got from older transgender people was the idea of having absolutely no one they could share this with, no one whom they could confine in, and having no idea where to turn or what to do.

I was overwhelmed with the response to the book. The ALA awarded me the Stonewall, I think because I was probably the second YA author to write about a trans character (After Julie Anne Peters’s Luna). Fan mail poured in. I heard from countless transgender people who thanked me for finally telling their story, and praising my research.

Covers for the books “Almost Perfect” and “Luna.”
Two of the earliest books about transgender youth written for young adults, both Almost Perfect and Luna broke new literary ground. (credits below).

Delayed Reaction

However, after a year or so, I started to get blowback. Sure, some of it came from transphobes (The Florida Tea Party tried to get it removed from school libraries), but most of it was from the LGBTQ community. Some of it was taking me to task for poor turns of phrase (I said ‘transgendered’ instead of the preferred ‘transgender’, or having Sage come out to Logan by saying ‘I’m a boy’).

Others didn’t feel that as a cisgender man, it was my place to tell a story like this. But the most overarching criticism was that the story was depressing. Sage is repeatedly used by Logan, assaulted by another man, and ultimately moves away, still trying to live the life she needs to. Why couldn’t she have a happy ending? Why would she fall for a jerk like Logan? Was I trying to say that transgender people are destined to be unhappy and will never find true love?

A snapshot of Brian Katcher near a body of water.
Here’s a more casual photo of Brian. (Brian Katcher).

Brian’s Self-Critique

While I did do my research beforehand, I really should have gotten some sensitivity readers to look at the finished product. There’s no excuse for that omission. While I feel I wrote Almost Perfect with the intention of educating people about how difficult it can be to be transgender, I failed in several respects.

Still, I’ve never once had a reviewer say they didn’t like Sage. More than one person told me the book gave them the courage to come out. And there are at least two women who chose ‘Sage’ as their new middle name. This is my book that gets the most requests for a sequel. Well, it’s the only book that gets requests for a sequel.

Covers for Brian Katcher’s books “Playing with Matches,” “Almost Perfect,” “Everyone Dies in the End,” “Deacon Locke Went to Prom,” and “The Improbable theory of Ana & Zak.” Also Brian’s picture.
If you read Jan’s post Authors of Amazon 44, you might remember this profile image. (Amazon; Brian’s website).

Pitfalls and the Creative Process

When you’re a boring old white straight guy like me, you get into a kind of Catch-22 situation. You don’t want to write yet another book about white, straight people, but is it your place to tell someone else’s story? My advice is to get sensitivity readers, both at the front and the back of the creative process. And be sure to thank them afterwards. If you feel good writing about people like yourself, no problem. And if you’d like to expand who you write about, the world needs diverse books.

But above all, be true to your own creative process. Find a character you and your readers can fall in love with. Remember, you’re never going to please everyone. But when those one star reviews come in, make sure they’re because of your hackneyed writing and unoriginal plots, and not because you misrepresented someone’s culture. And if someone has a problems with how you present someone, listen.

Brian and the cover of “Almost Perfect.”
Here are Brian and the cover of his book Almost Perfect. (Credits below).

IMAGES

Many thanks to Brian Katcher for the photo of him accepting his Stonewall Award, the cover image for Almost Perfect, and his author photo. Learn more about Brian at his website. Read his book reviews (and support the review website if you wish), at For Every Young Adult.

Many thanks to Books Bird for the Stonewall Award image, and to Amazon for the Luna cover image.

Not just a place, but a process

The Artdog Quote of the Week

Probably the biggest insight is that happiness is not just a place, but also a process. Happiness is an ongoing process of fresh challenges, and it takes the right attitudes and activities to continue to be happy." By Ed Diener.

How do you conceive your goals? What are the attitudes and activities that will make you happiest? What is the meaning of your life?

IMAGE: Many thanks to Positive Psychology for this week’s quote by Ed Diener.

Don’t let her challenge your resolutions!

The Artdog Image of Interest

It’s a new year! Many writers begin with a resolution to write more, or to finish a project they’ve started, or to start something new. Don’t let the Procrastination Muse derail your creative process! I’m sure you know her well, if you’ve ever tried to write somethingDon’t listen to her!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Kim Warp, via Evalyn Lee’s @Evalyn7 Twitter profile, for this cartoon.

An improvisation with legs

The Artdog Image of Interest 

This is the first spark of the idea–an image finished at last! The First Guardian (2013-18) still needs a mat, but I hope to start exhibiting it soon.


rediscovered a forgotten piece of artwork the other day. Well, it was part of a piece of artwork. I knew it wasn’t finished yet. I’d put it together sometime back in 2015 or 2016 (I’d like to say I keep better records than that, but no. There are gaps).

At the time, I couldn’t figure out how I wanted to finish it, so I did what I usually do with such pieces. I set it aside. Recently I figured out a background and color scheme I liked, put them together, and as soon as I can get it matted I’ll begin exhibiting this work at science fiction conventions.

Part of this piece was based on a corner of my much-exhibited “mainstream” piece, Nine-Part Herbal Fantasy (2013), which made the rounds of national juried shows all over the country in its two-year heyday.

Nine-Part Herbal Fantasy (2013) was a success, by certain standards. However, it now resides in a box on a shelf in my studio. Meanwhile, more and more of my “Guardians” multiple originals series have found new homes and given pleasure, thanks to art shows at science fiction conventions.

Those “mainstream” shows cost a lot to enter, and a lot to ship a framed piece to (not to mention the cost of framing the piece in the first place). They are somewhat prestigious, but I never sold anything at any of them, and my quantity of output was always too low to interest a gallery. I have stopped exhibiting work in those shows since then.

Originally, there was going to be a “light cycle” of Nine-Part Herbal Fantasy and a “dark cycle.” I had several of the “nine parts” finished or partially finished for the “dark cycle” when I shifted the focus of my art exhibition efforts to smaller and more overtly fantasy artworks, designed for science fiction conventions. Those suddenly-orphaned parts joined bits and parts from at least a dozen other projects in a collection of storage boxes.

You might recognize some of these “art parts” from other finished artworks I’ve created. In the future, you may see more of these bits, bobs and elements used in new artwork I haven’t created yet.

Periodically I’ll pull all the boxes of pieces-of-pieces out, play with combining them in different configurations, and see what kind of compositions I can come up with. Sometimes I’ll see possibilities for combining parts from two or more different former projects, often with new pieces added, new backgrounds, or other additional elements.

These are the “Guardians” multiple-original compositions. They are: Top row L-R: Fierce and BraveBottom row L-R: Defender and Protector. I am delighted to report that they have been well-received each time I’ve exhibited them.

There are several differences between the piece I finally just recently finished and have titled The First Guardian, and the multiple-original editions I call the “Guardians” series. I based them on the earlier, improvised piece, but I think you’ll notice several differences, too.

For me, this is one of the fun things about my paper sculpture–but it’s also one of the frustrating things. The creative process isn’t always (make that: is almost NEVER) straightforward. An idea I’m sure will be fantastic . . . doesn’t always work out that way. Parts don’t always go together the way I think they will. And sometimes things come together in ways I never would have imagined when I started the earliest parts.

IMAGES: All of the photos in this post were taken by me, Jan S. Gephardt, of my own artwork and art-making materials. If you wish to re-post or re-blog any of them, please attribute them to me and include links back to this post. Thank you!

The next battle

The Artdog Image of Interest

If you’re tired of Na-No-Wri-Mo posts, I’m sorry–gonna inflict at least one more on you. Because once you get to a certain point in your writing, it’s time to–GASP!–show it to someone else!! It’s pretty scary, because even after all that work, it’s inevitable that it’s not perfect.

Gotta be done. Find someone you trust and hand it over. It’s What Has to Happen Next, on the writer’s journey. Good luck!

IMAGE: Once again, I’m grateful to the wonderful Debbie Ridpath Ohi and her web comic “Will Write For Chocolate,” for this rueful look at the truth of a writer’s life.

How’s the writing coming along?

The Artdog Image of Interest

We’re about halfway through Na-No-Wri-Mo (National Novel Writing Month). Time to check in, again . . .

Whether you’re participating in Na-No-Wri-Mo or not, I hope your creative endeavors (whatever they may be) are going well. The creative process always involves frustration–but don’t let that stop you! Keep going!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Debbie Ridpath Ohi, her ongoing comic “Will Write For Chocolate,” and her Twitter feed for this image. It’s always a pleasure, “Inky Elbows”!

Working on a first draft?

Why would anyone try to write a novel? It’s an appropriate question for Na-No-Wri-Mo (National Novel Writing Month). Personally, I’m in great sympathy with Toni’s reason:

In my experience, writing the first draft of any project, especially a novel, is an exercise in faith. Faith that you’ll work out the problems, that you have something interesting to say, that you’ll find good, better, and even-better-than-that ways to say it. Everything is possible at the beginningespecially in my chosen field of science fiction.

But then you start to create your world. And that means rules begin to appear. Now if you want to break those rules, you have to change the world. Sometimes it’s worth it. But if you do, it’s okay. It’s the first draft.

If that’s a little too free-form for you, this thought may capture your creative process better:

However you manage to create your first draft–and whatever it looks like at the end, I have just one more thought for you:

IMAGES: Many thanks to Laugh.Love.Live, for the Toni Morrison quote; to Chasing the Turtle and Alice Walker for the quote about flying; to Writingeekery and Shannon Hale, for the “shoveling sand” quote; and to P.S. BartlettAuthors Publish, and the late Terry Pratchett, for the “telling yourself the story” quote. Finally, many thanks to Novel Kicks, for the unattributed “best and worst” quote. So True!

The writing process

Everyone who wants to write will eventually develop his or her individual way of writing, but if you’ve embarked on that effort it’s guaranteed you’ll also discover lots of ways that don’t work for you! It’s all part of the creative process. Keep trying. And consider these thoughts:

I’ve dedicated the majority of my posts this month to writers and writing. November is Na-No-Wri-Mo (National Novel Writing Month), when writers all over the world are moving heaven and earth (or not) to carve out time to write a cumulative total of 50,000 words.

My life is currently in enough upheaval that I knew I couldn’t compete at that level, but I’d like to provide a small cheering section for those who can. Best wishes to all of you!

IMAGES: I’m grateful to Now Novel (and to Barbara Kingsolver) for the quote and image about writing for oneself. Also to Authors Publish and Freedom With Writing for the image and quote from Neil Gaiman. Many, many thanks to the wonderful Debbie Ridpath Ohi, for her “Will Write For Chocolate” cartoons, including this one. And finally, I appreciate the image and quote from Beth Revis, as presented by Freedom With Writing. You’re all inspiring! Thanks!

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