A series of unusual events

It’s been an interesting few weeks. It started on my birthday when I found out that Junot Diaz curated a list for Audible and recommended The Jumbies. That was a pleasant surprise. A further surprise was when he posted a recommended list of authors on Facebook and tagged me.

Junot

Naturally, I said thank you.

Junot response

A couple of weeks later, a friend tagged me on Twitter to say that Winston Duke was spotted reading The Jumbies, and she sent me a couple of photos.

Then my husband found the video on YouTube. (It’s a TMZ clip.)

Duke responded, so I told him about the sequel.

Duke response2

I also got an email recently stating that a civil rights activist who is the subject of my next work of nonfiction (details to come), would be reading my manuscript this week.

Seems like plenty, yeah? Until I got on my flight to Trinidad this morning, on my way to Bocas Lit Fest, and the woman who sat next to me was Anya Ayoung-Chee. We had a brief chat. She’s lovely.

That’s a whole lot of Caribbean (mostly Trinidadian) goodness packed into a short span.

So…it’s been an interesting (and quite unusual, but very enjoyable) few weeks.

 

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The movement will fail without intersectionality

 

 

 

Most women understand the power differential that creates inequity between the sexes, and how that is upheld by society. It’s upheld so well, in fact, that I can only say “most women”  because the patriarchy has some of us in its grip. However, even fewer women recognize that same power imbalance when it comes to marginalized groups.

I have had women Blue Lives Matter me, or come into my post on colorism to say that white women have the same problem because of tanning, or whip up a diversity festival only to notice that there are only white people in charge and then reach out to me because of my hue.

Then there are those who understand why the Pink Hat book written and illustrated by a white man is a problem but somehow believe Knit a Hat, Take a Knee also written and illustrated by white men, isn’t. This is willful ignorance.

Maybe the belief is that a) the power imbalance between men and women hurts them, but the power imbalance between white and nonwhite or able and disabled or rich and poor or binary and non-binary, etc. etc. doesn’t affect them, or b) that other types of imbalance puts them at an advantage.

It’s neither.

Consider this: Suffrage in the United States began in the 1840s and ended nationally in 1920—for white women. Black women like Rosa Parks were still fighting to get their chance to vote in the 1950s. Voter ID laws are still as racist as they were during the Jim Crow era. Women continue to be paid less for the same work (and at different rates depending on ethnicity or their physical/mental ability), and I am still reeling over the numbers from the Caldecott, the Coretta Scott King award, and Edi Campbell’s posts on Black Women in publishing.

Where would we be if women’s movements had always been intersectional? There would certainly be more people involved, and “strength in numbers” is a real thing. NOT being intersectional has its costs. Intersectionality matters.

Then there’s this: mathematically speaking, it’s to your advantage to help others, even if in the short-term it comes at some cost to you. There are three things at work here, “direct reciprocity” (I help you and you help me), “indirect reciprocity” (I help you and someone else sees I’m helpful and helps me later), and “spatial selection” (a group of cooperators is better off than a smaller defector group). You can read all about those here.  

The refusal to be intersectional has actively minimized women’s movements, not just because of the division of numbers, or because it ignores the long-term benefits, but also because it requires effort to keep some people down while lifting others up. And it begs the question: if you are holding me down, where can you go?

Queens Book Festival 5/27/17

Hello friends,

I hope you will join me and many, many other authors at the Queens Book Festival on Saturday May 27.

The flyer below is just a small sample of the authors who will be attending.

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No Big Deal-itis

I’m beginning to see a pattern in the conversations I have with people. All people about all things. It’s very late of me to notice this, I know. And it’s not for a lack of people pointing it out my entire life, (see: any conversation with my mother), it’s just that I wasn’t listening. Sorry Mom!

Here’s an example of my self-diagnosed No Big Deal-itis :

Grover listening to all these conversations in utter disbelief...

Grover, on my office floor, listening to all these conversations in utter disbelief…

Agent: Here’s news about this really great thing!

Me: Meh.

Agent: Exciting right?

Me: Yeah.

LATER…

Me: Hey friend. My agent told me this nice thing.

Friend: Amazing! You worked so hard for that. You totally deserve it.

Me: I guess.

Friend: And how did your surgery go yesterday?

Me: *shrugs* I’m totally fine. Let’s do something strenuous that will not at all put me back in the hospital.

Friend: Umm…

Women tend to downplay their accomplishments (see: impostor syndrome). Women who are writers are probably the worst at this, because all (most?) writers have impostor syndrome. Women also tend to downplay their weaknesses. Like that time I was building an 8-foot tall dollhouse for my daughter WHILE going through chemo when what I should have done was my lie my behind down.

I’m not saying this to make any profound statement about women or even myself, other than: I’m going to try not to be so hard on myself. And since I have the opportunity right now, I’m going to take a nap. Or at least sit down and try not to think about all the things I have to do. For like, 10 minutes.

Baby steps.

What it’s like to be on deadline for a novel

I handed in the draft of the jumbies sequel a day early, and promptly scooped myself some ice cream and felt my shoulders relax. There were plenty of days I did not think I would make it. Back in November when we set the deadline, I thought I’d have the whole thing done by April 1st. Good thing my agent pushed it back to June. By February, when I thought I would have the first draft done (you know, the one where you get all the words on the page but not many of them make sense, or are in the right order, and there are lots of notes to yourself like “something better here” and “what???”) I was panicked and depressed. I thought, “I’ve never written a sequel before! What was I thinking?” Some wise writer friends advised me to talk to my agent or editor and get the deadline pushed back. But no, the Catholic schoolgirl in me DOES NOT MISS DEADLINES!!! So I decided to push on silently. It didn’t help that when people asked if I could do a guest blog post, or an hour-long keynote, or edit their entire novel, I didn’t say no. Those nuns really messed me up. Then I unexpectedly had to be in and out of doctor’s offices in April and May. Plus recovery time for all the poking and prodding, which forced me to cancel a couple of events.

About two weeks ago, I was nearly done, but putting in long hours editing, rewriting, doing the back-and-forth thing where when you change one word in chapter 15, you have to go back and tweak 10 other things in previous chapters to make that one word work. My back ached, I had a permanent headache, and I was crying. A LOT. But on Friday I sent the draft to my agent, with a long email note about all the things I was yet to fix, mainly because it would be the first time anyone read the entire thing. She returned it on Sunday with (mercifully brief) notes, and I sent it back on Tuesday morning. Then it went out. A day early. I felt so relieved.

With apologies for the curse word, this chart is DEAD ACCURATE.

With apologies for the curse word, this chart is DEAD ACCURATE.

This was my first experience being on deadline. Having gone through it, if there’s a next time, I’ll definitely plan my time better. I’ll try to say no to stuff. But the likelihood is that I will be struck with the same sense of panic, and feelings of being a fraud and a hack, and I’ll probably still say yes to doing a zillion things because CATHOLIC SCHOOLGIRL. But at least the next time I’ll know that I’ve done it before, and maybe that will help me trust that I can do it again.

 

The jumbie’s out of the bag!

I was planning to do a big reveal about the sequel to THE JUMBIES to coincide with the release of the paperback in two weeks, but the deal was announced in Publisher’s Marketplace last week!

Sequel announcement

The good news is, I don’t have to keep that a secret any more. I’m good at keeping secrets, but I really don’t like to. And now you know what I’ve been working on! But my big reveal plans aren’t totally foiled. I made a little teaser trailer that I will still post at the same time as the paperback release.

In the past few weeks, I’ve visited a few schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and I went to the Kweli Journal Children’s Book conference this weekend. That was an AMAZING day. I got to hang out with people I admire personally and professionally AND I got to meet two writing heroes of mine, Edwidge Danticat, and Joseph Bruchac.

Joseph Cruchac, Edwidge Danticat, me, Ibi Zoboi, and Leah Henderson.

Joseph Bruchac, Edwidge Danticat, me, Ibi Zoboi, and Leah Henderson.

In February, I had the opportunity to sit in a room of extraordinary women including Rita Williams Garcia, Jacqueline Woodson, and the lovely and articulate Marley Dias, who started the hashtag #1000blackgirlbooks. We talked about what we were all reading, particularly what Marley and the two other young ladies in attendance were reading, and what kind of books they are hoping for. It was an illuminating afternoon.

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Ellen Oh, A.P., Renee Watson, me, Marley Dias, Jacqueline Woodson, Dhonielle Clayton, Rita Williams-Garcia, A.B., and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (not pictured: Marley’s mom Janice, Jennifer Baker, Nancy Paulsen, and Phoebe Yeh).

I’m hoping to be better about blogging and keeping everyone up to date on what’s going on, but I’m making NO promises. You know how it is. In the meantime, I still have some time in the schedule for a few more end of year school visits!

A return to teaching

On Friday, I head out to Boston, not to the ALA Midwinter conference, but to Lesley University, where I will be a new faculty member in the Writing for Young People MFA program. I began my career teaching, and other than writing, it’s the thing I feel most comfortable doing.

I have not talked about this new career move much. Not for lack of enthusiasm, but for an overabundance of feeling overwhelmed. 2015 was a stellar year. THE JUMBIES re-launched my writing career in ways I had not imagined one book could. I spent a lot of the spring through fall traveling to conferences, book events, and to schools (my favorite), talking to readers, teachers, and other writers. I met and befriended many authors who I admire and respect. I was asked to judge a Caribbean children’s literature award, did several blog posts and videos for other sites, saw my novel selected for Scholastic Reading Club, and now I’m gearing up for conference proposals for 2016. There hasn’t been a lot of time to talk or even think about residency at Lesley, other than preparing for my students.

But today, I’m packing. So I’m slightly panicked about being away from my family for a week and a half. My family is not so thrilled about me being away either, which makes it harder.

As I contemplate how little I can take for a 10-day trip (I am determined that everything fit in my usual carry-on), I’m going over what I have prepared for the next few days…meeting students, other faculty, teaching a seminar on how to begin a story, doing readings, working with students on their stories…and I realize I’m not worried about that part at all. I know how to do this. I know how to read a group and switch up a presentation if I have to. I know how to pull things out of students that they aren’t sure they have in them.

What I am worried about is overdoing it, getting totally drained, and not having my family to re-energize me at the end of the day. So perhaps a small talisman would help.

IMAG0261.jpg

Which one should I take?

 

When I return home, I go back to finishing up my next novel, working on freelance projects with publishers and individual clients through my Fairy Godauthor editing services, and doing school visits. (I still have plenty of spring slots open, btw.) But I will be more mindful of my personal time, which means I may refer some Fairy Godauthor clients to other editors or even to writing classes if I think that’s what they need. And there are lots of good ones, like “Mothering as a Creative Act” offered at The Loft and taught by one of the loveliest and smartest people I know–Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.

There’s one more big project I have in mind for 2016–working on a novel writing workshop aimed at late elementary-middle school students. This is where my MA in Education and years of working for educational publishers will come to bear. I hope it will be something I can do as a writer in residence, or provide to teachers to use on their own. Either way, I’m excited at the prospect of teaching again, and digging into more education work–this time on my own terms.

What freelancing is really like

This is a picture of books and one DVD on my bed.

IMAG0506

They represent some of the research for four different nonfiction projects I’m currently working on as an editor or author, for four different publishers.

It does not include the fiction that I’m also currently working on.

They are on my bed because my desk looks like this:

IMAG0507

This represents all the other stuff going on in my life:

  • Fabric for the trim of a dress for my daughter
  • A new Lego set we’re all itching to start, but can’t because of the other Lego sets we haven’t finished yet
  • Piles of papers of research, school forms, and things that need to be mailed
  • The laptop because sometimes I need to reference something on another screen
  • A copy of Essence that I will probably never get around to reading
  • Notice the phone over to one side for cold calling or following up on leads or rescheduling the dog’s vet appointment

Despite the bajillion projects on deck, I’m not stressed (not today anyway). Every day, my plan is the same: I work on two or three projects, and don’t think about the other ones. Fiction, of course, does not conform, so I wind up opening up notes documents to jot things down, or I use one of two notebooks for ideas that I may (and probably will) forget.

There are days I feel I’m not working fast enough, or I wish I could finish one thing and have it off my plate. Some days I really beat myself up over this. Some afternoons I feel burned out and watch reruns of Star Trek: TNG. Some mornings I sit in the back yard and read while the dog runs around.

Most days I feel pretty happy to be doing what I do.

Almost every day I have new ideas for things I want to write and almost every day I’m willing to consider taking on someone else’s project.

So if you’re not hearing from me lately, you know why.

Do you really need to write every day?

I’ve never been able to write every day. I’ve tried. And when I fell back into my pattern of writing only when I find the time, I’ve beaten myself up for lack of discipline, or commitment. Sigh. But after a year of working on a new story that just didn’t go anywhere, and then starting another, and my editor and agent gently asking when I’ll have something new, I knew that I had to buckle down.

Once again, I set out to write every day. Starting on day one, I wrote for anywhere from two to eight hours. There were moments when I’d feel jittery if I was away from the computer, as if writing had become intoxicating. It was both scary and exhilarating, because I was getting a lot done. At the beginning of week three though, I was beginning to feel drained. My husband expressed concern that I might be drifting into depression. I needed a break. That was Tuesday.

On Wednesday, I spent most of the day cleaning the house, and my office, which had begun to look like a garbage dump.

On Thursday, a photographer for The Record came to the house to take what I thought was just ONE picture for an article I’ll be in. Turns out he also wanted a video interview. No one told me! It took about an hour, then I spent the rest of the day panicking about it. No possibility to get any work done.

On Friday, my husband and I decided to do some repainting in the house. It was a pretty big job. We finished sometime on Saturday afternoon. No writing time.

This is what relaxation looks like!

This is what relaxation looks like!

Late Saturday afternoon we drove upstate to enjoy July 4th fireworks with friends. But on the drive back home I realized how relaxed I felt, how ideas about the story, and things that needed to be fixed came to me without my feeling jittery and need to sit in front of the computer, how I could make mental notes, and hold on to them days later. Today is Sunday. I am not working today. a) It’s Sunday. b) My body is still exhausted from painting for two days.

But tomorrow, I will get back to work, secure in the knowledge that the ideas that came to me during this relaxing week are still there for me to use, and feeling much better about writing and getting to the end of this story.

So all of that to say, you don’t have to write every day. At least I don’t. I can’t. And I can finally let go of the guilt of feeling like I should.

On launch day for The Jumbies, I’d like to thank…

Jumbies cover small-gifMy mother, who totally believed me when I said I was going to grow up and be a writer at the wise old age of 3, and whose unwavering support is just the most amazing thing I can ever imagine. I have no words for how grateful I am.

My father, who proofreads and gives notes, even while I’m eating. Even when I just get off the plane. Even if I’m like Dad, I’m asleep! Also, he will take me out for doubles and coconut water as soon as my foot touches T’dad soil.

My husband, who has to deal with all my emotional stuff (somebody give that guy a hug) and who is always positive about what will happen next, and who stocked up on my favorite candy bar so I would never run out, and who does so many little and amazing things, that I cannot possibly list them all.

My daughter, who gives the best hugs, and thinks it’s cool that I write, and is very curious about what I’m working on, but has become a very good literary critic, and is not afraid to give her opinion.

My son, who has declared I am his favorite author even though I don’t write about origami yodas and there are not enough battles in my books.

me elise marieMy agent, Marie Lamba (right), who believed in this story and in me, and gives really good advice, and excellent notes, and is really fun to hang out with, and can hold her liquor.

My editor, Elise Howard (left), who is so sharp and insightful and awesome, I can’t even believe she liked this book enough to buy it.

My editor, Emily Parliman, who loved this book from the beginning, and believed in my ability to make it excellent down to the very last word. She also wrote an excellent teacher’s guide.

The marketing/publicity team at Algonquin YR who were really behind this book and wanted to include my ideas in making it a success including Craig Popelars, Lauren Mosely, Kelly Bowen, Emma Bowen, Emma Boyer, Debra Linn, Michael Rockliff, Krestyna Lypen…

…and especially Eileen Lawrence, who is so much fun, and looks out for me, and retweets/favorites EVERYTHING! And Brooke Csuka, who basically pimped me out to every event this spring, and who has helped to generate so much buzz about this book, I am literally floored. I mean, Essence magazine? You guys!

Brunson Hoole, who reviewed page proofs and has most likely kept me from making a fool of myself (and is probably cringing at the grammar and mechanics errors in this thank you note).

Jumbies_cover_v2Vivienne To, who did the artwork for the cover, which is haunting and beautiful and exciting all at once.

Carla Wiese, who did the jacket design, which is fantastic not least because that font is pretty much perfect.

Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson, who saw a very early, and very rough draft, and gave notes, and were encouraging, and have been great friends throughout this journey.

Karen Halpenny, who read a later draft, and had excellent notes as well, and who also brings me cookies, and hot chocolate, and bike locks.

@moonb2 who read and enjoyed The Jumbies, and was one of the first people who reached out to me about it online.

@mrschureads who made The Jumbies first ever Vine! And wore a Jumbies sticker on his shirt to school one day.

Summer Edward who has supported my work through Anansasem and who got me in a twitter chat with one of my favorite ever Trini authors, Lynn Joseph!

Laura Pegram of Kweli journal, who along with Aurora Anaya-Cerda are hosting one of The Jumbies launch parties at La Casa Azul this Thursday

Everyone at Watchung Booksellers for hosting the first launch party today and for being supportive since my first novel, Angel’s Grace.

swag picMary White of Mary White Studios who made the douen dolls that I’ll be giving away today and Thursday, and the reading owls with the covers of both my books on them.

Janel Livingston, who assisted me professionally this spring, and helped ordering swag, reaching out to schools and bloggers, doing all the episodes of the jumbies video field guide, and basically doing all the things I just didn’t have time for.

The cutie pies in the video field guides: Alyssa, Adam, Junior, Maciré, Kevin, Khephren, and Kobie, and their moms Tricia, and Natasha.

All the SJC women, the MMH Krewe, and my local librarians (including Arlene Saharaie and the entire BooksNJ team) for your friendship and support.

JLG sticker pinThe Junior Library Guild for honoring The Jumbies as a Junior Library Guild Selection. I will wear that pin everywhere!

And of course, all the kids who are reading and enjoying The Jumbies.

I am surely forgetting some other people, who I hope will forgive me.

Thanks all. You can go back to reading now.

kid reading jumbies