Saturday, June 21, 2014

Thoughts from a Plain-Belly Sneetch

Thanks to the tenacity of Ellen Oh along with the entire #WeNeedDiverseBooks team and subsequent panel at BookCon, many agents, publishers, booksellers, and librarians came away from BEA 2014 with a new perspective on the market for diverse books.

And while this is wonderful news, I've been pondering what this will mean for those of us who were out ahead of this movement and ultimately self-published, the ones without "stars upon thars." 

Independent Authors of diverse books continue to deal with a challenging Catch 22. We are the recipients of a double shunning. First, by agents and publishers who could not envision anything past a niche market for our stories, and secondly, by those bloggers, literary reviewers, libraries, and booksellers who refuse to promote independently published books. The irony is that in doing so, they further perpetuate the state of lack when it comes to diverse literature.
This site will make you smile.
I started to address this issue via social media in the week leading up to BEA, but then I stopped. With something as powerful as We Need Diverse Books about to take center stage at BookCon, there should be no dissension amongst the ranks. What this panel and everyone who participated in #WeNeedDiverseBooks made happen was nothing short of amazing. The need for diversity in Children's and YA literature far outweighs the needs of one little saber-rattling author. 

Sure it’s disheartening to think that some of us who were previously told “no” by traditional publishing might actually find a "welcome" mat in this new climate. But the greater message of Dr. Seuss’s The Sneetches is that at certain point, after things got a little crazy, none of the Sneetches could tell who initially had stars, and who didn’t.

Dr. Seuss's, The Sneetches and Other Stories
Random House, First Edition, 1961. N
 read it as a child? It's even better as an adult.

Perhaps there’s a silver lining in #WeNeedDiverseBooks for us Indie Sneetches. 
Maybe we'll find a bit more acceptance from those who typically only recognize books by Star-Belly Sneetches. I hope so. Even though I ultimately had to go it alone, I did not publish Delta Legend haphazardly. I knew it would be scrutinized within an inch of its spine by those who look to find fault with independently published books. 

Participating in the We Need Diverse Books campaign was like a gift out of the blue for me and I am so grateful. For years I've felt like I was out here alone. Now I realize that even those with agents and traditional publishers have felt their diverse books are not getting the level of attention and promotion they deserve.

I'm always checking myself when I post about this issue and I often go back in to soften my words—afraid to risk angering the publishing gods. Then I read Ellen Oh's guest post on Angry Asian Man detailing her personal reasons behind #WeNeedDiversBooks. She turned her anger and frustration into unapologetic action and we've all benefited. 

The audio from BookCon's We Need Diverse Books panel is available here. It's about an hour long but so worth the time (or listen in increments as I did). Every author on the panel is positive and inspiring. This was history in the making and has already changed the future of Children's and YA Lit for the better. 

Here's to the upstarts, like Ellen Oh. The ones who say, "I'm not gonna sit around and wait for things to change, I'm gonna go out and make it happen." And for that, this Plain-Belly Sneetch says, thank you. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Waiting for a Sign

Here we are, on approach to Summer Solstice, and I have Karen Carpenter’s, “Merry Christmas Darling,” stuck in my head.

It's not because Tom is away, tracking an album in England—he’s having a brilliant time and I've needed the solitude. No, it’s because of the line, “Greeting cards have all been sent, the Christmas rush is through… “ It speaks to that moment after a hectic time when things finally start to slow down and you can take stock of your emotions.

As it relates to me at this moment: the screenplay polish of Delta Legend is complete. It honors the novel while ratcheting up the action and suspense needed to carry a film. 

It’s been a while since I’ve faced the Hollywood firing squad and I’m waiting for that moment of brave, a sign that I'm really ready to do this again. If you can't handle rejection, better go find some other place to play.

Whatever comes, it’s been extremely satisfying to incorporate the growth of the novel back into the original spec. They really do compliment each other and it's ready should the need arise. 

I plan on taking a very short break before getting back to the business of writing the next installment. Only this time, there won’t be years between novel and film—they are happening simultaneously. I've written about this before but a screenplay really is a beautiful blueprint for a novel.

This is going to sound crazy, but whenever I get beaten down from going it alone as an indie author/publisher/one-woman marketing team for Delta Legend, I visualize handing the keys to Calvin and telling him, “You gotta drive this thing.” Without hesitation, he nabs the keys and says, “I got this.” And he does.

As writers, we sometimes feel like we’ve given birth to our characters. Most of the time, however, I feel as though characters come out of the ether. Needing their stories to be told, they find me. Calvin, Mei Li and the gang—this is their time. Beyond a niche market, young adults of color need to see themselves as protagonists and heroes of contemporary stories that appeal to a very wide audience. 

As I'm writing this post, UPS just delivered the latest box of physical books … at 8:15 p.m.?  It wasn't due here until June 9th. 

When I hold this book, I am reminded how very fortunate I am to have had the opportunity to tell this story. For all the push-back against self-publishing, it has afforded many of us an opportunity that would have been impossible otherwise. Prior to digital publishing, if no one in traditional publishing found value in your story, that was it, game over. How many writers went to their graves leaving behind an unpublished, type-written manuscript wrapped in brown paper and tied with string? (I warned you I was being sentimental.)

Thanks to Ellen Oh and her merry band of #WeNeedDiverseBooks upstarts, the tide is turning. Querying with my African American protagonist would likely be a bit easier in the current climate. But thanks to independent publishing, Calvin's story didn't have to languish on the back burner, waiting for this day to come. One need only look at the demographics of reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon to see that Delta Legend easily transcends any notion of a niche market.

I am blessed and grateful, and yes, proud. Turning a screenplay into a novel is not often done. Independently publishing that story has been a tough row to hoe, but I did it. And I'll do it again if I have to.

Thinking back to when I was finishing the novel, I did readings with a class of at-risk students from the projects. Remembering how they went from showboating and mouthing-off to quiet and engaged in a matter of pages. The way they embraced Calvin and expressed shock that someone was writing a story they could actually relate to. When one of the toughest guys in the class came up to me afterward to ask what the word "imbibe" meant… How could I not do this?

Seems UPS just delivered that sign I was waiting for.