The AmWritingFantasy Podcast: Episode 152 – Breaking Mental Health & Race Stereotypes in Your Novel—with Iona Wayland
Play • 44 min

Do you wonder if you've avoided stereotypes in your writing and been appropriately sensitive to people of different races, ethnicities, or neurodivergent?

There are aspects to look for as you write and edit to make certain you are aware of how what you've written will be perceived. Plus, there are sensitivity readers who can help you out!

With special guest and sensitivity reader Iona Wayland, Autumn covers some tips from tying mental health to character arcs to checking yourself for outdated language which will help your writing cast aside stereotypes.

Find Iona on her website at and on Instagram at

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Read the full transcript below. (Please note that it's automatically generated and while the AI is super cool, it isn't perfect. There may be misspellings or incorrect words on occasion).

Narrator (2s):
You're listening to The Am writing Fantasy Podcast in today's publishing landscape, you can reach fans all over the world. Query letters are a thing of the past. You don't even need a literary agent. There is nothing standing in the way of making a living from writing. Join two best selling authors who have self published more than 20 books between them now on to the show with your hosts, Autumn Birt and Jesper Schmidt.

Autumn (31s):
Hello, I'm Autumn. And this is episode 153 of the Am Writing Fantasy podcast. And this week we have, yes, we're on vacation and taking a bit of a break, you know, I guess he deserves, but so instead I have with me a different author and sensitivity reader and someone who writes fantasy and I'm so looking forward to talking to her, so welcome to the podcast. I own a Wayland.

Iona (59s):
Hi there. Thank you for having me.

Autumn (1m 1s):
Yeah, I'm so excited. I, you said you're a tea drinker. You're a pet mom. This is going to be so much fun. And I even like the sensitivity, I can't wait to talk about that because I know my first story, my first passions were like, well, you know, we have these giant epic fantasy quests and no one ever seems to come out the other side with like PTSD. So that was one of the first things that I thought of when I first started writing back in 2010. So I cannot wait to talk to you, but first go ahead and introduce yourself. I know you have your book, ashes and talk is tell us a little bit about that and tell us how you decided to become like a sensitivity reader.

Iona (1m 45s):
Well, I, and my day job is a trauma therapist and by night, so to speak, I write and ashes is my debut. It's a dark fantasy novel. It has a Latin X main character named Angela. And she has to decide if she wants to journey and avenge her brother's death. And so it's those trials of figuring out herself in the midst of trying to save her brother. Oh,

Autumn (2m 16s):
That is cool. So yeah. So he's dead. Is it saving his soul or saving him or is that giving away too much of the book?

Iona (2m 23s):
It won't give away too much. He is, he is dead at the beginning of the book, but it explores what was behind his death and what is behind like what his soul needs to pass on.

Autumn (2m 36s):
That is so cool. I love it. Well, that is because I looked at the cover. I'm also a graphic artist and I saw the cover. I'm like, cool. I like this. This is a very nice cover. So,

Iona (2m 47s):
So glad you like the cover. I designed it. I'm not, I mean, I'm not talented, like what you're saying, but I did design. I was like, this is exactly what I want, please, if you're able to do that. And they were so

Autumn (2m 60s):
Nice. Fantastic. Well, yeah, it came out really nice. I do like it. So, wow. You've been working with trauma. So that's already your interest in your background and a, did that bring you to writing or have you always been a fantasy reader? Always wanted to be a fantasy writer.

Iona (3m 15s):
I've always been a reader and a writer to the point where before I even could write, like I knew the alphabet or anything, I would watch cats out of like alley cats out of my window as like a little kid and right. Loop de loops. And that was my version of writing stories about the cats that I saw. So ever since then, I've just always wanted to be an author. And I've definitely, definitely a reader. So fantasy is the main thing, but I really like all genres. There's not any that I dislike.

Autumn (3m 47s):
I think that's one of the benefits of being like an indie author, that if you want to do a cozy mystery slash fitness slash something, we can mash those up and turn it into something really special.

Iona (4m 1s):
Yes, it's true. It gets very niche. I love it.

Autumn (4m 4s):
Yes, very much so. So before we get into some of the topics and I think it's interesting, so it sounds like your, your writing tends towards inspiration, which is a super cool and more like noble bright, but I have to ask what your favorite type of tea is because I never get another tea enthusiast on the podcast.

Iona (4m 22s):
The hard, oh, that's so hard. Well, right now I'm drinking an English breakfast, but oh man, my favorite tea, I have to say chai tea, which isn't really specific. Cause chai just means tea, but I like the spice tea for sure is, is so delicious. And I I'm really into bubble tea right now. Yeah. I definitely have that as like my Wednesday treat to myself middle of the week, treat to myself, I'll get a bubble tea.

Autumn (4m 54s):
Oh, I love that. I'm not anywhere close to any place that sells bubble tea. So I will live vicariously through you for that one. Yes.

Iona (5m 3s):
I definitely got lucky. Yes.

Autumn (5m 5s):
Oh yeah. Well, chai tea again is a perfect answer for this time of the season and the fall. We're recording this in October. So yeah, we're all in the pumpkin spice attitude right now.

Iona (5m 16s):
Yes we are. All

Autumn (5m 18s):
Right. So this is, Ashley's your first one. Are you working on something else right now? Or are you going to

Iona (5m 24s):
Actually working on a sequel? But there was a bunch of very happy but intense life stuff popping up. That was really good and wonderful, but it also made writing go on the back burner for a little bit, but I am working on the sequel to that. And the goal is to make it a SQL within the same universe. And the main characters of the first book are mentioned, or maybe even run into, but it is like a different main character.

Autumn (5m 53s):
Oh, I like the ones like that, especially where you can, you know, work in somebody from a previous book or a different book. And they just do like a cameo. That it's Very cool. So yeah, I was like reading about what you do and as, as sensitivity. So you have to tell us what a sensitivity reader is and how you came up with that idea. But I was going to say, looking at your own writing, you like, you like to look at grief and surviving trauma and finding purpose and strength. And when I read that, I'm like, oh, you probably liked the, as someone else put it what's considered traditional fantasy, but they decided to start calling it noble bright, which is, you know, it might go dark, but there's always that hope that's buried in there rather than everything being dark and dire.

Autumn (6m 37s):
And you're wondering, I remember one of the first dark fantasies I read it was really closely and in a sister died, everyone, this person cared about a diet and he's trudging through a swamp and I can never remember what the purpose, you know, what the final target and goal was. And I'm just like, you know, if I was this character, I would just lay down in the swamp and I'm done. So that's the other side of dark fantasy, but it sounds like you try to pull out a little bit of that hope in the healing.

Iona (7m 5s):
Yeah. I definitely am healing focus and it's not saying that it's necessarily a happy or what the character expected to have happen. And there's still trauma from those experiences. And at the same time, I feel like healing is such a beautiful, intense process that all humans are capable of making that. I just wanted to make sure I depicted the human experience in that way and my writing for sure.

Autumn (7m 34s):
I love that. That is so, you know, it's touching and it's, I love not, I it's one of those things when you're writing, you know, some people like have a moral compass and they're, it's almost like the fable where they're like doing a morality play and they're pushing the novel that way. But I do love it when you have characters. And like you said, it's almost like a twist or it's not what they expect. It's not what they fear, but it's a different result. But I do love the power of that change. The character arc, you probably work on that specifically is to see a character go through this trauma of face it and come out the other side one way or the other or somewhere in between.

Iona (8m 14s):
Yes, exactly. I love some good character arcs for sure.

Autumn (8m 18s):
Oh, is there a special one that you like to see? Like, is there something you've recently read as a sensitivity reader or even when you're writing or just a book you picked up and you're like, gosh, that was a good healing. You know, what made you think this is not only realistic, but just a very solid character, a character arc and maybe a little bit of a surprise.

Iona (8m 40s):
There was one. So this is actually from a TV show that I've been watching and it's an, it's an older TV show, but I, there is this character that was really annoying in the beginning and, and he was kind of insufferable at times and very emotionally immature. And as it's carried on, you could tell that his character arc was instead of being insecure and overcompensating by being kind of obnoxious, he was like, no, you know what? I can do this. And if you believe me, then, then great. But if you don't, I'm still going to do it anyway. And he got to be like one of my favorite characters by the end of it.

Iona (9m 23s):
So I thought that was pretty cool too. I had that whole, like this guy's like really annoying. And I wonder if he's going to be written out. That's how annoying. And it was really cool to see him thrive. It was very neat. So that is something that recently popped up for me.

Autumn (9m 40s):
That is fantastic. That's actually something I wish I had done in my debut novel. I've a character that he's, I would describe him more as overly sensitive, maybe sliding towards manic depressive with highs and lows and often making bad choices. And I I've actually had a few readers be like, oh my gosh, I can't stand him. I want to skip his chapters. And I don't think I really ever healed him if I ever go back to the story. I think, cause there's always is, I've done two trilogies. And I like even things like three sets of three, it's just, I'm half tempted to write another third set and I might have to finish up his character arc where yeah. Maybe people will not want to like drown him.

Iona (10m 24s):
It can be done. That's what you decide. Yeah. So, but that is real. That would be a really cool character arc to see having someone have like peaks and lows like that, being able to find more of a stability in between. That's pretty cool.

Autumn (10m 38s):
It was. But I have to say, especially having published that on in 2012, I've had definitely people not see why I did that. Like they want to have an easy character. They want a character that makes sense. And a character arc. And literally there's times he doesn't make sense because he just, he's got emotional highs and lows that don't always jive with. What's going on or a little extreme on either side. And I do see that as an issue, even though I try to bring out the nuances, like he's a little different in the society, he's a little unhinged, but to other people who are more stable, it's just the way he is. But I think people are getting a little bit more now.

Autumn (11m 19s):
I mean, it's been almost 10 years since I wrote it

Iona (11m 25s):
Here since then.

Autumn (11m 27s):
And what's crazy is how much society has changed. I see a lot more nuances in characters where they are, maybe there's some mental health issues and other things. And that's brought up a little bit more even in fantasy where I think before it used to be more in nonfiction. So I think it's a little more understood, but I would say, I don't know if you would give us any hints or tips on that, but if you're writing a character that does have some stresses like post-traumatic or mental health issues, cluing the reader in that you're not just throwing a crazy character and making them erupt just to like make the plot tense, but that it's actually a character issue, an internal thing that's going on.

Iona (12m 9s):
I really liked that. I love when people are able to not like to show the nuances like you're talking about and show that it's an inner character struggle and how it shows up for that character through symptoms is a very cool when people are pulling them off in the correct way. There's not that there's a one way that is what's hard. And there is not just one way, but that's where sensitivity readers come in. Where, so I, I read that's so sensitivity reading is where there's someone with expertise or the life experience or both. And they will read through a manuscript that has not been published yet.

Iona (12m 54s):
And they will point out depictions that may be harmful or inaccurate. So they, they really edit for inaccuracies in that regard. And then also I do diversity reading too, cause I'm a mixed race woman of color. And I like being able to help in that regard as well.

Autumn (13m 14s):
Oh, that's fantastic. Oh, and that's so important with so many people being more interested in writing different perspectives and viewpoints and races and cultures, even when you get into fantasy. I mean, even a dwarf is different from an elf versus a different color or other race. So that is cool that you can bring that out and see if the experience is, you know, like you said, authentic and valid and not just being cliched and stereotype.

Iona (13m 44s):
And in writing, like I think most authors and writers would agree that writing is very powerful. It depicts what's going on in our world. It shows even if it's in a totally different realm, it shows what the author's points of views are and what those characters points of views are and what they see. And so it's, it's really important to make sure that the representation is accurate so that there's not a perpetuating cycle going on from generation to generation. Yeah,

Autumn (14m 17s):
That's so true. I mean, I know I was paying attention when I was, I just wrote a fake contemporary Fe fantasy, urban fantasy, and part of it, I have, I'm a native American as a native American, more of a spiritual being and to not fall in that cliche of the native American, who is a Sage and knows all the answers or, you know, all these other, you know, to make him an authentic character who happens also to be a native American spirit who also has this history that he actually kind of doesn't quite understand, like so many teenagers are like, yeah, great. My grandfather's is great, dude. And he's like go out to the forest and go to class. And I'm like, so it is important though, because sometimes we don't even realize the stereotypes were contributing to.

Autumn (15m 7s):
I mean, I was just at a fantasy con and I was on a panel for women and fantasy and we decided that it was women characters, not just women authors. And I pointed out that so many times in the U S as a student, all of our examples are here and it's always he and she, or something, you know, the is always first. And I'm like, you know what? Screw that. I started all my pronouns. All my example cases are now female. Or sometimes I'll do 50, 50, I'll switch back and forth. But I always start with the woman for us. I always put she first because why, why is the default he, and you know, it only took me like 40 years to figure that one out.

Iona (15m 47s):
And there's so many different, like nuances to, to gender expression and experiences and stuff. Like why start with he? You know, I love that. I really love that.

Autumn (15m 59s):
Yeah. And even like you were saying, I mean, I just finished the late bar to go the Grisha verse books and oh my gosh, kudos to her. She has non-binary transgender. I think she has it all. And it was so fantastic to read. I'm like, this is, I can imagine the fantasy I read. Cause I grew up in a very conservative, very Christian, very rural place. And I know the fantasy, I read changed my perspective of who I became and I'm thinking my goodness, if I could have read the Grisha verse when I was 13, 15, and they thought Dungeons and dragons was bad, the water,

Iona (16m 42s):
I think that shows the power of writing and how, why it's so important to have accurate representation. It can really change people's lives. It's truly incredible.

Autumn (16m 51s):
So, I mean, as a, so as a sensitivity reader, what are the steps that you do when you look to help an author and what you're reading, what are you looking for that says, this is an authentic experience versus a, this might be, you know, the wrong way to go.

Iona (17m 6s):
Oh, that's a good question. Okay. So one of the things I see most often is when certain races or ethnicities or mental health experiences are experienced, like a monolith. So like, like there's, there's like three examples. So like, let's say let's use depression. That's something that a lot of people experience and struggled to overcome or do overcome. And that is something that I think what a lot of people think is depression means sad. And so if that's the only presentation of depression, there's nothing that shows what actually is making that depression for that character.

Iona (17m 48s):
Like everyone sad, but depression is different. There's way more reactions and symptoms that someone can go through. It can be very different that could be having difficulty getting up in the morning that can be staring off into space in the middle of the Workday that can be forgetting to brush your teeth or take a shower for a while. And then being like, oh shoot, how long has it been or not having the energy to do that? Or some people even experience physical pain of that. So I look for if there's any like broad strokes over simplification of mental health or any other kinds of experiences in the author's work, I think that way I can be like, let's be a little more specific.

Iona (18m 32s):
And how does it show up for your character specifically?

Autumn (18m 35s):
Oh, I saw like that. It reminds me of like, you know, I often teach like writing with the five senses. We still rely on visual. And then we might have sound because dialogue is sound, but it's like touch, taste. All of these other things are a way of experiencing the world and doing your world-building. It helps bring the world to life if you can touch it. So you're saying the same thing, like with depression, you know, even to me, I'm a huge foodie. So it's like losing that drive for like good tastes being like, yeah, it's just whatever, you know, that's all a sign and it also gives more depth to your character and more depths to the experience. Oh, I liked that so much.

Iona (19m 11s):
I'm clad. And I'm glad you talk about the different senses. I remember my world being like totally blown away when I learned that there was more than five senses. Like not, well, there's the five main ones, but like, there's like balance. Like if something feels off kilter, there's heat, hot and cold. There's Like, I there's like 20 more or something like that. But I remember like at the very least let's bring in the five senses, but there's also all these other things too, that we can add on there for the whole experience.

Autumn (19m 41s):
Exactly. And I always looked at it even the sixth sense, the traditional sixth sense is mind or soul spirit. That's where the mental health comes in is it's not just intelligence, but it's how well you deal with things. And that is such an interesting, you know, we talk about personally Nally tests to develop your character, but looking at just how reactive, how adaptive are they mentally to big changes. Some people are going to break very quickly and some people are going to be surprising and they're going to be able to change and flow, but eventually something might trip them up. And it's, it's part of knowing your character, knowing how they're mentally and emotionally handling the things you're these hurdles that you're throwing at them or letting them fall in love and then yanking of that away, how are they going to be like, oh, wow, there's a deeper impact to those things.

Iona (20m 33s):
Definitely a consequence. Yeah. Deeper impact for sure.

Autumn (20m 38s):
Very cool. So what are some tips resize? You know, don't so we have don't, you know, don't just dwell on one aspect, like, you know, definitely do your homework. Are we going to have a character? Who's depressed, looked at some of the other symptoms that are there. Like if they're manic, depressive, understand what the highs and the lows are and find a way of, of explaining that. Like I said, I can see readers being still startled. If you have a character that is truly going through a mental health crisis or has some issues, and especially when you come into across it and fantasy, it's not still not traditional to have those things, but they're creeping in there, but it helps to clue in the reader somehow saying I'm not just being over-exaggerated of this one character.

Autumn (21m 22s):
There's a real reason. I mean, is there some clues or some tips you can give us that are a way of letting people know that this is, you know, this, these are the things that are happening to this character or for a reason on purpose.

Iona (21m 35s):
Yeah. I, I definitely tell people to develop the character first, develop the character first because having a mental injury or mental illness is not a character trait. If someone's like, oh my gosh, they're so anxious that doesn't really tell me anything about the character at all. That that is just conveying a diagnosis or, or someone questioning if maybe they might have this diagnosis, like I want you to know, are they extroverted, introverted? Ambiverted do they out loud process, internally process? Are they quick to anger?

Iona (22m 15s):
Like, do they have a quick fuse or are they really patient? Like, how do they process the world? How do they react to other people? What is, what do they hold, dear? What do they push away? Those kinds of things. And then, then you can add the diagnosis because you already know your character as a person. Because I think that they'll sometimes there'll be writers who will have someone have their villain origin story is that they are bipolar. And it's like, well, that doesn't really tell me anything. There are lots of people who are bipolar. There's different kinds of bipolar.

Iona (22m 56s):
Like tell me about your character first and then just show through show. Don't tell, really show me what their symptoms are. And I think that's important to remember also not to always villainize those with mental health either. Cause that's a big thing that I see very frequently. And it's kind of cliche now. I think.

Autumn (23m 17s):
Yeah. I was just about when you said the villain being bipolar, like, oh, but isn't that a stereotype too? I mean, that's just like the joker or something in Batman it's should not always be the mentally ill who goes off the deep end. You can have a way. I think it's interesting. Cause I've even read fantasy recently where there was someone who was going through issues. And I think the elves came up with a drug for them. I'm like, oh my goodness, we're getting into pharmaceuticals. Now this is fantastic. You can be a healthy, productive member of society and how, and just be different. You know, my nephew actually has Asperger's and he and I, it kinda runs in my family.

Autumn (23m 57s):
We're all very literal. Like if you see a sign on the road that says like road drops 500 feet, our immediate thought is the road is going to fall 500 feet. Once we have a very literal interpretation, but it's just a different way of seeing the world. It's just our lens of the world is slightly different from most other people. But again, what is most other people? What is normal? This is normal for me.

Iona (24m 23s):
I don't think there is such thing. I think normal is made up as a therapist. Joke is it's a setting on your washer machine and

Autumn (24m 34s):
That's true. It doesn't say average, like normal cycle. That's true. I like that. I'm going to use that from now on to defend myself.

Iona (24m 44s):
And I do think that what you're saying is like, yeah, like you process the world or family members are on the spectrum are autistic and they process the world in a different way, but it's also not different. It's also just how you process it. So I would love to see an autistic character with those kinds of like the ability, the different abilities and disabilities portrayed there with that disorder. I don't even like calling it a disorder. It's it's someone not knowing and I'm, I am not neuro-typical so I'm neurodivergent myself. So I think that it's very cool to see all kinds of representation in writing.

Autumn (25m 28s):
I think it's important too. And that's one of the things I do love that. I mean, I did grow up in the eighties and it seemed like all the, it was all the male characters, you know, He-Man or something and they're wearing swords and they're going off and saving the women. And I was, I was always at least neuro atypical enough to usually just be able to put myself in the place of the hero. It didn't matter. I was a tomboy. I think, goodness, I actually just realized this the other day that my brother never said I couldn't do something because I was a girl. We were like playing Cowboys and Indians together. He let me play with his matchboxes. I'm like, oh my goodness. How much of my weird view of life comes from my brother?

Autumn (26m 8s):
Not treating me like a younger brother instead of a little girl, all the way down to trying to draw and quarter me once. But we won't go there.

Iona (26m 18s):
My choice of sibling relationships,

Autumn (26m 22s):
I love writing about them. They're so horribly wonderful, but it is true. It's it's those different viewpoints and the diversity of viewpoints that make even a quest group. You don't want every single person the same. And I know one of the advices I give is like, if you're having a problem telling your characters apart, which one, your readers will then have a problem, but give them like a totem. I'm like this, one's the Fox, this one's the out you to do something so that you understand their differences, some kind of way of seeing them differently. And I think that goes for even how they,

Iona (26m 57s):
Especially like, if the person's like indigenous and they understand the backgrounds behind, like what totems mean, but if you aren't indigenous and you want to try something else, you can also do like, smells this one author. Now I forget who said it, but that doesn't help. But she was like, you, you can use smells like sense and like, imagine that their candle, what would it be? I know for me, sometimes I'll imagine characters wearing certain colors, just because color is so important to me and having those different, like connections with color and, and what they mean for me and how I can tell like my characters apart and what makes them different from each other.

Iona (27m 40s):

Autumn (27m 41s):
That's when I wrote my debut, that was how I managed to get into character's head. I actually wrote in a different color font for each of the characters

Iona (27m 49s):
And that's so helpful. It

Autumn (27m 51s):
Was so helpful. I could, I knew then to stay, if I was especially, I was trying to do all chapters in one point of view. So I knew to stay. If I'm in red, I was in tie and I had to stay in Thai and it really helped me learn a lot better. But I, I liked that smells. That also gives you a totally different perspective and reminds you to use your other senses.

Iona (28m 12s):
It does. I really hadn't thought of it until this person said it. And now I wish I could remember this person's name.

Autumn (28m 18s):
Okay. I am sure. Well, you know, Google, I would say we can Google them, but yeah, that sometimes doesn't work. There's just so much out there anymore. Well, that's really cool. So you, I love that you do this kind of reading and sensitivity reading for both mental health, as well as races and stereotypes. And when you do it like character arc wise, what are some tips you can say for like showing a character shifting from the one side of their art to the other, like, are there good turning point issues or what are ways of showing that the, you know, they're becoming they're healing and moving on?

Iona (28m 60s):
Oh, that's a really great question. Something that I think is helpful to show with healing is that it's not linear. So I think a lot of people, even, even their expectation for therapy sometimes is like, okay, I'm going to have like six sessions. And then on the seventh one, there'll be a big epiphany and then I'll be fixed whatever that even means. And it's like, well, that's not quite how it works and that's not how it's going to work for characters either. So I think it'll be cool to show like, you know, they, they, their tolerance might get longer. Like when they usually are like really quick to anger, maybe show that their tolerance before they blow up is lasting a little bit longer and a little bit longer, or they're able to tolerate another character a little bit longer than usual.

Iona (29m 54s):
Or if someone has a hard time accepting accolades or like compliments, then showing that change in their effect from being able to just brush off, be like, no, this is it's like, wow, you really saved me. Like you're a hero. And then being like, I'm not a hero. Like we see that so much in fantasy. Like I'm not a hero, I'm just doing my job. But getting to a point where they're empowered enough to accept that they did something very difficult and very brave and courageous is very, very beautiful. I also love because I love seeing this cause this is how it happens in real life is when people regress.

Iona (30m 34s):
So there'll be these accomplishments, these accomplishments, these accomplishments, and then they might use, they might break a little and use an old maladaptive coping strategy that they don't, they haven't used for months or year or whatever. And then they go back to doing that. And then they're like, oh, was this all for nothing? And of course it's not all for nothing but showing that like, I've been different. I've been, I'm different now. Like, but why did I do this? And showing how they come back from that again and again. And I know someone told me once that healing is, is kind of almost like cyclical, where it'll go in a circle, you're going forward like a wheel.

Iona (31m 18s):
But it, you have some patterns that you have to break out of that takes some time and you might repeat them.

Autumn (31m 25s):
Oh, I love that. I reminds me of the anagram, which has like the nine stages for each of the key personality types. And so it's like, yeah, you can move up and down the scale. And it's not just villains moving down, but you know, you can have a character that starts really high and they can go down and they can go back up and they can go back down. I mean, I know, I remember again, one of my characters, one of my favorite characters and he starts off pretty high. He's pretty kick ass, but he, his, the second book, there's a huge event at the end of the second one, he loses his sister and he, he just kind of crumbles and he slides down and some people were really mad at me, but I'm like, this is legit.

Autumn (32m 11s):
This is, you know, people go through things. I've actually, I've lost siblings. It's you changes you. And I'm surprised that some people didn't want to see a character go down, maybe have, who went from a positive arc to a negative arc in one book and then came back up to the third book. That's what the trilogy is for. Right.

Iona (32m 31s):
Absolutely. And that's how it is. Like you're saying in real life, like grief, that's something that I heavily have heavily explore in ashes. Is it? I think they used to think that it was like the stages of grief. It's not stages, that's a swinging pendulum. I don't know what's going to happen. We don't know. And you can go move back and forth all throughout your life for the rest of your life. It's going to affect it. You're going to miss that person. And that's what I really wanted to show. And there are times when Angela, my main character, she will sometimes handle things really well and use her resilience and use her, like I'm going to do this for my family kind of attitude.

Iona (33m 16s):
And then there are other times where she's like, wow, what am I doing here? Like even going to work. Yeah, it's true.

Autumn (33m 24s):
And that's a stick. And I love that. And again, I mean, we just because it's fantasy and a fantasy setting or has magic doesn't mean that the emotions aren't real. I mean, that's how we can pretend to be a dragon or pretend to be an L for any other species that we come up with. Is those really the emotional connections. And that's also what draws us to characters. So that's why I think explaining it to that as someone who has an experienced grief or hasn't experienced someone in their family who is, has mental health issues might not quite, we'll actually get it a little bit. And I think that's really important is to not just make some people go, this doesn't make any sense, but try to draw out the realism and say, this is, this is how it is for some people.

Iona (34m 9s):
And I think that's really important.

Autumn (34m 11s):
Yeah. Well, is there any other tips you can think of that you think would really help writers, you know, talk about how to write, even we talked a lot about mental health, but even bringing out cultural differences, how not to fall into those stereotypical traps or how to even question, you know, when you're developing a character as, or a certain point where you're like, where do you stop and ask yourself, am I just being a stereotype with this person?

Iona (34m 38s):
Well, it's hard to know what biases, because we all have biases that we don't know about, which is why it's a lovely to have critique partners. I, my advice is to include the community, if you can, like of whatever you're writing about. So like, if you're an autistic person and you're writing an autistic character, then you should have some autistic beta readers. If you're not able to do, I have obviously support someone doing sensitivity reading or having a sensitivity reader, I should say, but if the person doesn't want to do that, then having the community help them. And then being very open to feedback about that.

Iona (35m 20s):
Because I think even though we can have biases, if we have certain disorders or if we have certain backgrounds like racial and ethnic backgrounds, I think there's more room for biased error when we don't share that. So that's why it's so important to include the community there and just making sure to unlearning certain things does not feel very good, but overall it will improve your writing.

Autumn (35m 51s):
Oh, that's so very true. And I know as it's, I love question, I swear. I didn't question anything as a teenager. I've made up for it as I've gotten older, but

Iona (36m 3s):
That's part of being a teenager,

Autumn (36m 9s):
But it is very important. I think, I mean, when I sit down to create a character and I go with my first gut assumption is like a female or a male and I've always stopped. Why, what color? You know, why do I feel like it should be that way? I think that's so important is to question basically it's exhausting. But when it comes to your main characters or even your sub characters, I know I was reading something, helping a writing coach with something. And it seemed like every default character was a male. The doctor was a male, the nurses were female. I'm like, come on, wake up 20, 20, 20, 21. Even know your doctors are now female. Your nurses are nail male deal with it.

Autumn (36m 50s):
And when it sneaks in there and sometimes I think you're right, I saw it because I wasn't on the author. And so I really noticed it. I mean, I think if I went back to something I had written ages ago and I looked at it with a clean slate, I would also go like, oh my gosh, why did I choose that?

Iona (37m 8s):
I've definitely looked at my old writing and been like, well, I've certainly grown because I know these certain thought processes are not accurate anymore, but you never have really thought they were.

Autumn (37m 23s):
I think, I think we all deserve to be able to grow. I always feel bad, even if it is for politicians, which it's hard to feel bad for politicians, but you know, once like 20, 30 years ago you voted on this, oh, for goodness sakes, let them change. People can change their mind. Over 30 years, your writing will change. Don't be afraid, I guess, to try writing a different culture, writing a different species. I know with my first books, I remember thinking I wanted a fantasy race. I didn't want ELLs. What color should they be? And I was thinking black. Yeah. I was trying to go through everything, but I want it to be fantasy that finally made them their skins, the color of bark.

Autumn (38m 4s):
So, you know, go ahead. Be different, come up with something totally new. That's fine too. Don't be afraid of trying it, but yeah. Make sure you probably check in with someone else. Some beta readers, some sensitivity readers to make sure you're not off the wall and going to,

Iona (38m 21s):
Yeah. The bark thing reminded me. This is not me saying your elves are bad. They're gone. It's not, I promise this is something totally different. It just reminded me of that's something that has, has changed a lot is the description of eye, color, hair, color, skin, color. It used to be that apparently, apparently everyone's default white for some reason. And then, and then anyone else would be compared to food. And so they would be like, so they would be like chocolate skin or like mocha caramel.

Iona (39m 3s):
Yeah. And that wasn't really, I mean, I'm sure it was harmful because anytime you've described someone as food related, it's like, that's a bit othering. I would think. Especially if you don't do it for one race, like the white race, it's cool to see like how that's changed and how authors, like there are authors who didn't know that that was harmful. And they learned, and they were like, okay, that's an easy fix. And they just put that in there. And I love, that's what I love seeing like as a sensitivity reader is not the mistake. I don't care if someone makes a mistake because it just is something that they're going to grow from. I, I, I do care if they don't listen to, not that they have to, they don't have to rewrite their book or anything.

Iona (39m 50s):
Usually sometimes that does have to have it, but it's just like, are they listening to the feedback of like, Hey, here's a bit of educational piece as to why this isn't working 10 years ago, 20 years ago, it may have worked, but we found that it's harmful. And so, and here's why, and here's a way to do it a different way. And when people are like, oh, that makes sense. We'll do, I'm like, see, that was not difficult.

Autumn (40m 21s):
Yeah. And it's, it's so much better to get it on, you know, from a sensitivity reader versus seeing it as a review on Amazon or good reads and being blasted for either cultural appropriation or being harmful with stereotypes,

Iona (40m 39s):
It hurts. It can hurt a lot of people. It can, it has the potential to, yeah.

Autumn (40m 45s):
We're in a global community, in a global society. And so all of our stuff, as much as we wish it was simpler, you have to be culturally and mental health. You have to be aware that all of these things are out there and you should write the best you can. And I still say, there are times where you might choose to do something that's a little harsh, but always make it a choice, have an answer. If someone says, why did you do this? If you have an answer that's legit. That's

Iona (41m 13s):
Fine. You were intentional with it.

Autumn (41m 15s):
Yeah. Just being intentional. I like that.

Iona (41m 17s):
Yes. The intentions. And I like what you were saying too. Always question your motivation. Why, why, why? And then be intentional when you write is, is so important. And I think that's very, very cool.

Autumn (41m 31s):
Great. Well, thank you so much for joining us. And of course, I'm going to put links to your webpage, but pleased to go ahead and tell people how to find you. So if they're interested in learning more about sensitivity reading, that they know where to look you up.

Iona (41m 46s):
Yes. Okay. So I am most active on Instagram and that's Iona dot Wayland and I'm sure you'll have that information too, but my book is available in ebook paperback, and it just released as audio book. I was very excited to work with Melissa Medina. They did a wonderful, wonderful voice of Angela and brought her story to life beautifully. And then on my website, if you have inquiries about sensitivity reading rates or questions or anything of that sort, you can send me an information. You can send me your question or your manuscript or whatever, have you through my, at the very bottom of my webpage.

Iona (42m 32s):
And you can sign up for my monthly newsletter,

Autumn (42m 37s):
The newsletter. I might go back and get that because I think that'd be, I want to stay in touch. That'd be fantastic.

Iona (42m 44s):
Thank you.

Autumn (42m 46s):
Great. Thanks again so much for joining us and next week. Yes. For we'll be back. Actually he'll be solo and he'll have another fantastic interview lined up for you.

Narrator (43m 1s):
If you like, what you just heard, there's a few things you can do to SUPPORT THE AM WRITING FANTASY PODCAST. Please tell a fellow author about the show and visit us at Apple podcast and leave a rating and review. You can also join Autumn and Jesper on for as little as a dollar a month. You'll get awesome rewards and keep The Am Writing Fantasy Podcast, going, stay safe out there and see you next Monday.

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