Hello Sarah! I have a question about LGBT+ representation. As I write characters for my WIPs, many, many of them are not heterosexual. The only problem is, I don’t know if I will be able to confirm all their sexualities on the page in the story, especially in fantasy stories where the terms we use today don’t exist. I know you can only write the same scene so many times, and I don’t want to keep reusing it for different people.

(Representation anon) Yet, I want my readers to have solid confirmation of what my characters’ sexualities are so there isn’t any room for questioning or speculation. I don’t know if confirming it after or outside the book is good enough, and want to stay away from that. At the same time, I also don’t want to use relationships for all of them to made it known, because not all of them desire relationships. Do you have any advice? I would really appreciate it from you. Thanks!!!

Hey! Sorry for the delay in this. Jet lag had me down and out today. But I actually have a post about this that I think you’ll find helpful here (omg it took me so long to track that down smh). I have some examples there of how you can include that information along with basic information that you need to share anyway. The only caveat I’ll add is that no matter how hard you try, people are going to read your book their own way. Sexuality is fluid enough that varying readings do happen, and there’s nothing as an author that you can really do about that. However, you can use some of the strategies I talk about in that post to make sure it’s at least clear that your characters are queer. 🙂 Let me know if you have any more questions! 


Hey! I was wondering if you could help me figure something out. I’m writing a book where almost every character is part of a marginalized group, and I’m having trouble creating a villain out of one of them because I don’t want readers to think that a certain sexuality or race or disability or gender makes a villain. Any tips? I have no clue if I’m making sense…

Honestly, your best bet is to make sure that the villain isn’t the only representative of their group. If you have good characters who share the villain’s marginalization, it doesn’t make it look like all of that kind of person is bad. Hope that helps!

Out of curiosity, will Unrooted has LGBT rep?

Yes yes yes! Both my protagonists are on the ace spectrum, and among the supporting cast there are several gay, bisexual, and nonbinary characters. Not everyone’s gender/sexuality gets tackled in the first book, but it’s something that’s always in view! tbh, straight white guys are a significant minority. 😉

Hey, Sarah! I’ve got a question about book-writing. As a combination of active decision-making and circumstance, nearly every main character in my book represents a minority in some respect (one is a lesbian and mixed race, one’s bi and POC, one is deaf / HOH, one’s ace, etc.). I’m thinking of having one of the main characters die, but I know that killing minorities in any form of media is not ok (since it happens way too often and usually as some tragic martyr-type situation). What can I do?

omg this is such a good question, and honestly, it’s one I’m dealing with Right Now. 

The short rule of thumb for this is this question: Is the marginalized character that dies the only representation of that marginalization in the cast? If so, it’s probably not a good idea to kill them. If there are others that allow those readers to continue to see themselves on the page, you’re a little safer. Because the story still has to happen, it’s a difficult thing to balance, but it’s super awesome that you’re thinking about it. 

In my case, I had a black character die at a certain point in my series, but I realized that this did not present a good balance of representation for black people in my cast, for various reasons. My options were to change his ethnicity or not kill him. I opted for the latter, and now I’m rewriting a whole subplot to accommodate that. As it turns out, it was the best decision on multiple levels. It’s so important to take a step back and look at our project as a whole and find these patterns of imbalance where they exist and rectify them as we go. Best of luck–your cast sounds awesome! 

I feel so apprehensive about writing an actual YA novel. On one hand, I feel like its the most “flexible” genres for me to write, but on the other I feel pressured to include diversity and representation. I don’t know if I can good job. And I’m not even a writing/English/Arts major. Should I just give up?

A few things here.

1) You do not have to be a writing major to write a book. You should be a reader, but you don’t have to have “credentials.” One of the other authors in my pub house is a nuclear chemist! 

2) Writing takes time and trial and error. You’re not going to do a good job the first time–no one does. But if you really have a story you want to tell, then it’ll be worth the effort and the many, many drafts.

3) I think you need to evaluate and refine your understanding of YA a bit. YA is just as challenging, if not moreso, than other categories, because you have a responsibility to young readers to give them good books that don’t harm them. Writing representation is a part of this responsibility. You shouldn’t feel pressured to do it. It’s part of the job, as far as I’m concerned. This is not only true for YA, but for publishing as a whole. It’s no longer enough to write the same old straight/white/cis/abled cast of characters. It’s not even good writing anymore, tbh, because the world doesn’t look like that. If you’re writing to represent the world, then representation and diversity comes with the package. This is something you’ll learn more about and figure out with the many, many drafts you’ll have to write (as we all do), but I suggest recalibrating your perspective on YA as a category before you try to write it. 

Diff Anon, I was wondering about what are off limits in other Cultures for white writers? How would I find that information?

Hey! Sorry it’s taken me a while to get to this question! I haven’t had the time to sit and form a proper response. I figured this was going to get long, and it did, because I have a lot to say on the topic! I hope it’s not overkill, lol.

This is something I commonly hear from other white writers. What’s off-limits? What am I not allowed to write about? The existence of this question says a lot about our privilege. Because we live in a world where whiteness is prized and the system benefits us in innumerable, often invisible ways, we’re not used to being told no. We’re not always intentionally malicious about it, but the question, “Well, what can I write about?” can often come across the way an entitled toddler asks, “Well, why can’t I have my Halloween candy for breakfast? It’s not fair!” 

Being responsible writers as white people (and beyond that, being responsible with our whiteness), means shifting our paradigm. Not everything is for us. Not everything is about us. It sounds to me like you’re trying to make that shift, which is a good step. In this case, going with my analogy, the Halloween candy isn’t even yours, it’s your sister’s, and it’s just a bad idea to eat it for breakfast anyway (I’m still working on my first cup of coffee this morning, so if that makes no sense, I’m sorry)! 

Contrary to what our ancestors and/or the history of our civilization says, other cultures don’t exist for us to dig what’s interesting out of them and leave the rest behind. As people outside those cultures, there are things that we’ll never truly be able to grasp or understand. Things that are sacred, symbolic, etc. There are even microaggressions that we’re simply unable to see because we’ve never lived in the shoes of a person from that other culture. Plucking interesting or aesthetic things from other cultures is generally a bad way to go, because culture doesn’t work like that–it’s an interlocking system of symbols and meanings which, when removed from their context, become crude imitations. 

There’s no one answer to What’s off-limits? because it honestly depends on what culture you’d like to work with, why you’re choosing it, and how you’re using it. To find out what’s all right and what isn’t, you should read blogs by people of those cultures and see what they feel comfortable seeing written by other people (and read a variety–you can’t just go to one blog and call it done for the day, because one person doesn’t speak for their whole community). 

Also keep in mind that your position as a white writer gives you an invisible advantage over writers of color, even if those writers are working from their own experiences. A great example of this, I think, is Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, which attempts to blend the 19th-century American West with a Middle Eastern/West Asian culture and mythology. On the surface, it’s a super intriguing idea, but because she was a white woman, she inadvertently (or perhaps intentionally) perpetuated negative stereotypes or misinformation about Middle Eastern/West Asian societies and their mythology, like the jinn. I honestly think the result of such an experiment would have been extremely different if someone of Middle Eastern/West Asian descent had written it. And, if I’m being honest, it probably would have been better. 

I’ll even speak from my own recent experience. I’m working on drafting the fourth book of the Iridia series, and I have a character who is currently South Asian coded. She’s one of my favorite characters: powerful, intelligent, witty, pansexual, and flirty. She ends up in a wlw relationship with one of my other characters. I was describing her to my friend @mahnoorjahan because Mahnoor is South Asian, and she expressed sincere skepticism of me, a white woman, writing a South Asian woman as aggressively flirty, because it plays into the stereotype of “sexually available, promiscuous brown woman.” Because I am white, writing such a character falls dangerously close to fetishization–regardless of my intention or execution. It would be different if I was South Asian and writing such a character, because in that case it would be a woman of that ethnicity writing her own liberation and empowerment. But it’s not for me to write that. Despite the efforts I’ve put in to learn and educate myself, I was still woefully dense in wrapping my head around this (bless you for your patience, Mahnoor). Mahnoor gave me alternatives that I’ll definitely be using when I work on the second draft of the book (I need to get the damn thing finished first lmao). 

Unfortunately, if you’re looking for an easy answer or solution to this, you’re not going to find one. You have to approach every new project, every new inspiration, with the same care and consideration. You can’t tell yourself (as I almost did), “I’ve already done the work with a, b, and c, so I don’t need to worry about doing it with d.”  It’s a part of learning the craft–and it’s not just white writers that have to do it! Whenever a writer is dealing with a culture that’s not their own, they have to examine their own internal biases and motivations and accept that there are some things that are simply not theirs to write. 

I hope you found some of this helpful and not too discouraging! I won’t lie and say it’s an easy process, but I can promise that it’s absolutely worth it! 

Hey Sarah! I saw that you reblogged @mahnoorjahan’s post about jinns, and I agree, but I was wondering, as a white fantasy writer, how am I supposed to get inspiration from other cultures if that is all blocked off. America doesn’t really have any interesting culture to speak of that could be used to inspire a fantasy novel. Other cultures have amazingly intricate and amazing legends and things, so is any cultural inspiration off limits? Please tell me if I am out of line! I am just curious.

Hi there! This is an important question to be thinking about as a white writer. Power and privilege play a major role in what we should and should not write. Colonialism, for example, has created a long tradition of white people claiming and reworking the cultures they’ve invaded for their own use. If we’re going to stop that tradition, we need to avoid it in our writing. 

First, identify what kinds of stories you should and should not tell. Note that @mahnoorjahan didn’t say you couldn’t write anything inspired by Middle Eastern/West Asian cultures, but because jinn, which are part of their religion, are so frequently co-opted and misused by writers not of that culture, it’s probably best that only people who really understand their significance and their purpose work with them. 

It’s still possible to be inspired by Middle Eastern/West Asian (or non-Western in general) cultures, but the trick is to be very careful. The first step is identifying why you want to use that culture in the first place. Is it for the aesthetic? Are you designing an antagonistic culture? Do you want something exotic? These are all BAD REASONS for drawing inspiration from a non-white culture. They play into awful stereotypes that have real-world impact. If these are not your reasons, then that’s a better start, but you still need to do lots of research and legwork to be sure that you’re not enhancing those damaging stereotypes accidentally. Talk to and listen to and read work by people of those cultures. Know what to avoid. Get sensitivity readers. Mahnoor is helping me avoid problems as I’m developing the desert culture in my series. Humble yourself and be prepared to learn. Be prepared to be told no. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it to be sure that you’re not going to be hurting anyone with your writing. 

Also, as a member of the American Folklore Society and someone who makes a living learning about the cultures, folklore, and social histories of the Western World (largely–I hope to expand), I can promise that there is not a lack of interesting cultures and folk traditions in America and Europe! (Note: indigenous and other non-white cultures in America follow the same rules as above.) Mountain lore, plains settler lore, on and on … there’s a lot to choose from that doesn’t necessarily run into the same issues of power and privilege. That said, it’s safer never to assume, but I think you’re selling yourself short if you think you can’t worldbuild or create an interesting fantasy setting without drawing on the cultural or religious traditions of non-white, non-Western people! 

Here are a couple of resources for getting started on learning how to write with privilege and power in mind:


Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward

“The Danger of a Single Story” TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Microaggressions (this page helps make you aware of subtle biases that might pop up in your writing)


Hope this helps!

Hi Sarah! I recently reread My Fair Lady and I wanted to thank you for the Jewish rep. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me with everything that’s been going on. <3

❤ You’re so welcome. I was thinking about this the other night, actually. I’m struggling right now with feelings of frustration and helplessness, but if my writing can be a comfort to people, then I know I’m helping, just a little bit. I promise I’ll continue to be inclusive in my writing, because heaven knows the world seems to be having a problem with that right now.