My blessings on any given day of the week…
Family, house, job, health, friends, car, dog, means, trees, creativity, ability to reason, humility, snow, rain, sleet, snow, of course God, moderately clean air and water, shoes, trash pickup, every phase of the moon, loud movies, chocolate, laughter, seeing past sorrow, and the knowledge that it can all be gone in a blink…except Christ.
Blessings to Japan.
(E-book released August 2014 with new cover)
When I received the advance reader’s copy of my novel, Escaping The Tiger, I told my daughter she couldn’t read it—yet. Perhaps in a year or so. She was only 8 ½ and I wasn’t sure she could appreciate or process the gritty realities my characters face, realities that are based, in part, on her father’s childhood escape from Communist Laos. But she sneaked the arc and read it anyway.
Of course she did. It was forbidden fruit.
I caught her about three chapters in and decided if she was willing to read it, I’d be there to guide her. We talked on the way home from school one day. I asked her how the book was going.
“Fine,” she said.
“Is it scaring you at all?”
“Well, do you have any questions?”
I’d have to do better than that. Asking yes-or-no questions is no way to start a conversation. “Daughter, do you know why the Communist soldiers burned Vonlai’s favorite book, the one about American skyscrapers?”
“No,” she said.
My fault. I asked another yes-or-no question. So I went into lecture mode. “Daughter, they didn’t want Vonlai forming his own thoughts about America. They wanted him to think just like they did, without learning anything for himself. That’s how people try to control other people, is to limit the information they get.”
And she was quiet. I checked my rearview mirror. She was staring out the window. Nice one, Mom, I thought. You’re babbling about censorship and your kid probably wants to go get an ice cream or something.
“But Mom,” she said, still watching the trees flash by as we drove home. “Vonlai’s dad told him they can’t burn what’s in your mind.”
The heavens parted. The angels sang. And God sent me his smile right through my sunroof, dressed as a golden ray of sunshine. She got it, I thought. My baby girl, who I thought wasn’t mature enough to appreciate the themes in my novel, got the most important part.
Of course she did. She’s the one who sought out the very book I’d banned.
So just in time for banned books week, an associate professor at my college alma mater, Missouri State University, wrote an opinion piece in Springfield’s NEWS LEADER suggesting that the rape scenes in Laurie Halse Anderson’s young adult novel, SPEAK, equate to soft pornography. He wants Republic, MO school district parents to get involved with what their children are supposed to read in school. Hey, Wesley Scroggins, great idea! But how about we don’t send a message to girls who HAVE been raped that they should shut up about it and don’t tell a soul? That’s what removing the book would do.
Novels that tackle tough issues show slices of life, Mr. Scroggins, so that readers can experience the harshness (that will bombard them when they step outside your bubble), from the safety of a book. Readers can witness other people struggle with life, make mistakes, demonstrate bravery, etc. etc. etc., all so that they can either learn from others’ choices or be inspired by their actions. And most importantly, they can form their OWN opinions without YOU deciding what they should and shouldn’t read.
If you’d like to SPEAK up and let the Republic, MO school district know your thoughts, just as Mr. Scroggins has done, please visit Laurie Halse Anderson’s blog for all the particulars.
If you write literature for children, tweens and teens, and you talk about it out loud, then you’ve likely had someone ask you when you’re going to write a book for adults, as if it’s some kind of graduation into a respectable vocation, a step up from the training bra into a full-fledged over-the-shoulder boulder holder–with underwire. No more Big Chief tablets, fat pencils, training wheels, but a real, live, bonafide piece of literature for those of legal age.
So how do I answer that question? You mean after I stick out my tongue? “Nevah!”I say, with my thumb on the tip of my nose, fingers wagging.
Would such an inquirer ever ask a pediatrician why he’s not doctoring for grown-ups? Would he tell an elementary teacher to get a real job and educate only the college crowd? Would he suggest to a CASA volunteer that real court advocates only work with people old enough to vote?
Well-meaning people: please hear this. We write for kids because kids matter. Kids are relevant. Kids are curious and honest recipients, often times at critical crossroads in deciding who they want to be as grown-ups, often searching for a safe place to explore the complexities of life. Complexities that bombard them every time they leave the safety of home. Or maybe their home isn’t safe at all, and they turn to books to discover they are not alone, to see a flicker of hope that their lives can someday be different. Or maybe they just want a good old fashioned joyride of a story. Kind of like playing with toys.
And these future adults, aka kids, are savvy, enthusiastic readers, open to new ideas and willing to explore the breadth of human emotions experienced by characters between the covers of a book. Books which serve as safety nets or shields, allowing inquiring minds a peek into the hardships of life, while still showing them how choices and reactions of a character in a book can build a person up or tear them down. It’s like touching a hot stove. Once you’re witness to that, you might think twice about doing it again. That’s why some of us write about drug abuse, date-rape, degenerates, mean people, sad people, confused people, struggling people, deadbeats, and bullies. Kids need a place to stand at a safe distance so they can relate, apply, react, respond, learn empathy, feel connected, get pissed and get empowered. As Katherine Paterson, author of BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA once said, “books give us emotional practice.”
Yes, fireworks are dangerous, but if we stand at a safe distance, there’s a whole lot of beauty to behold.
Opinions come in all shapes and sizes, so when you get feedback on your story, how do you know when to take it to heart, or when to let it slip out the other ear?
First off, LISTEN to what critiquers have to say, without interrupting to explain what you were trying to accomplish. That’s called defending, and well, it puts you on the defensive, your mind swirling with thoughts about how you will make this reader understand your literary brilliance. And when your mind is formulating a response, it can’t be listening. Remember, YOU asked them to read your work, so do them the courtesy of listening. Bite your tongue if you have to. And remember, when you send your manuscript off to an editor or agent, you will NOT be there to explain of defend anything. That’d be creepy.
Second, do multiple readers note the same problems? If everyone offers a different opinion about how to improve your manuscript, it’s not a good idea to incorporate every suggestion. From my experience, when there are too many differing viewpoints, the manuscript likely has big problems, so it may be time to step back, let it sit, and reread it after a few weeks to gain a fresh perspective. Sometimes readers, including agents and editors, can NOT pinpoint exactly what prevents them from connecting with a manuscript. But when you have multiple critique partners whom you trust telling you the same thing, then bingo, it’s time to tackle those suggestions.
Third, does the suggestion resonate with you? No one starts off writing The Perfect Story, but at some point, you have to trust yourself. So if a suggestion just doesn’t resonate with you, let it go. Maybe the issue will come up again, and you’ll consider taking action then because the longer you write, the easier it is to say goodbye to passages you once thought were brilliant, but in the end, this is YOUR story. And you are the only one qualified to write it.
Passionate discussions continually circulate on the web regarding young adult novels that have been whitewashed, the practice of using Caucasian models on the covers of books whose stories feature characters of color. Publishers get lamblasted. Boycotts get organized. Letters get written. Petitions get signed. And fortunately, authors get defended (because 99% of us have no control over our books’ covers). Two recent cases of public outrage (one author’s take ) resulted with new covers for the books in question, so yay to the people with the big voices (one of the best)!
But yet another kerfuffle has hit the world of young adult literature in the past week (the author’s take), and the internet outrage continues (a sample), but I cannot condemn the publisher in question this time because they did everything right with the hardcover. They published a book WRITTEN by a person of color that was ABOUT about a person of color that FEATURED a person of color on the cover. Three big thumbs up! But sales were disappointing. And the cover for the release of the sequel aims to reach new audiences who perhaps didn’t connect with the original cover, which was bold, brilliant and beautiful, in my opinion. But people are crying foul again, because the sequel features an ambiguous cover model who could be a person of color, and then again, maybe she’s not a person of color…it’s just vague enough.
But boycotts hurt authors who earn mostly meager wages for years worth of work. And as an author myself whose debut novel features a person of color on the cover, I am greatly appreciative of my publisher who also put my Laotian surname in big red letters across the middle of the book (I’m a white woman married to a Lao). But I am also greatly concerned and saddened that caucasians might look at my cover and say, “Nah. Those people don’t look like me so I’ll pass. Ooh, there’s a cover with a pretty white girl on it.”
And well-meaning people even suggest I market my novel in areas where the Laotian population is greater, but I gotta say, that population already knows the story about which I wrote. Most of them lived the story I wrote. And I feel quite depressed that my sales are also disappointing, despite my publisher doing the right thing. I don’t want my novel to be more fuel for the fiery argument that book covers featuring people of color don’t sell well. And when there’s an impression that these books don’t sell well, then bookstores don’t stock them. And when bookstores don’t stock them, the public doesn’t see them. And when the public doesn’t see them, people don’t buy them. And when people don’t buy them, publishers don’t publish them. Anybody dizzy yet?
So in this post, I want to make known my effort to end whitewashing. I’m buying books that get it right, because in capitalist America, money talks, and publishers and bookstores gotta make money to survive just like the rest of us. So here are my two most recent purchases of 2010 debut novels (Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves and Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes): books not only about people of color, but books that proudly show a person of color on the cover. And if you think that children of all colors deserve to see themselves represented on the covers of books, then might you consider joining me? And if money’s tight, then pester your library for the book and CHECK IT OUT. That counts too! And please share your thoughts or tell us what POC books you’ve bought lately…
(EDITED TO ADD: For my angry version, click here. I’m really not a fan of name calling. Especially from anonymous editors.)
Yeah, I admit it. I like me the occasional quarter pounder with cheese, the #2 value meal to be exact. So I’ve been hitting up the same McD’s by my work for several years now, and there’s one drive-through worker who’s never copped a ‘tude or rolled one eyeball when I fumble for my credit card, ask for ketchup at the last minute, explain that I want my tea two parts unsweetened or, before I had my newer car, handed her cash through my slighty-ajar door due to a malfunctioning power window.
So a month or so ago, she hands me my Ticket-For-An-Early-Death meal and I hand her my my book (it’s called Escaping The Tiger, btw). She was like, “Dude, you gotta pony up the cash. I can’t trade you a burger for a book.” And I said, “No, it’s a gift. I wrote it.” And she flashed me her typical I’m-Gonna-Be-Happy-‘Cause-I-Choose-To-Be-Happy smile and I went on my way.
Today, she told me it was the only book she owned and she was reading it again. Then she used curse words to describe the horror of what my characters endured. Yeah, Wendy, it IS f’d up. Thanks for reading!
And Wendy went back to her duties at McD’s, smiling and being genuine with people who she barely crosses paths with each day, just like she always does with me, your regular everyday author and quarter pounder with cheese lover.