This last week was a mixed bag of pleasure and pain. Last week, I told you how I’d been celebrating my birthday for about a month, working to complete 35 acts of kindness in honor of the 35 years I’ve been dancing across this planet. My village showed up BIG TIME when I asked them to join me in supporting Somebody’s Mama’s current project. I spent all morning writing thank you cards to people who helped me raise $496! Believe me when I say that every single dollar of that feels like a tiny miracle.
What I wanted most for a present this year was to go to the SCBWI Midsouth conference in Franklin, TN. It came highly recommended by my writing partner, Katie, who road tripped down to TN with me. Without going into too much detail about what these conferences are like—my intention when I go is three-fold: learn about craft, network with other writers, and receive feedback about what I need to do to write the best books.
|My writing partner, Katie, and our new friend, David. Everyone needs to |
run to the store (or pull up your Kindle app) and buy/read David's book Mosquitoland.
I don't have the words for this book right now. It's just some kind of
special genius. Aaaaaaaad David is like...Santa Claus nice.
I came away from the conference feeling happy and sad. I've been told repeatedly that the book I’m currently querying is a story that needs to be told. The problem is that the people I’m talking to are skeptical that it can be sold. I get it. I really do. It’s just disappointing. I don’t think they’re wrong. I wrote a book told from the perspective of American kids and Ghanaian kids, and for the umpteenth time, I was told by an editor this isn’t accessible enough to the reader.
It has been suggested that I try rewriting the book completely from the American perspective. It has also been suggested that I change the main character from Ghana into a boy. Here’s the thing—I’m someone who is so willing to take direction and make edits that make the story better, but I believe wholeheartedly that neither of those things would make the story better. Not only that, but both of those things would be a disservice to the reader. When I set out to write this book my goal was to show both perspectives. I need an American boy to show the familiar. I need the African girl to give voice to a perspective that is not often considered in American children’s literature. Juxtaposing those two voices provides contrast and invites the reader to consider a perspective not his own.
The idea that an American middle grader can’t handle switching narrators is just untrue. There are tons of books—contemporary books—that are doing this: the Origami Yoda series, Wonder, The Candymakers, just to name a few. I think saying that an American boy reading my book would put it down because the voice changes to a girl is insulting to our kids. (Also, hello? Have you met Katniss Everdeen? Or India Opal Buloni from Because of Winn-Dixie? Boys are reading those books because they’re good books.)
Okay…so that turned into more of a ranty vent than I intended. I’ll say this—I have received such positive feedback about the content and style of my writing that I haven’t lost hope. I just need to find the right agent to take a risk with me and publish something that doesn’t fit the formula. Madeline L’Engle failed at publishing A Wrinkle in Time 400 times before someone said yes, so I have 395 tries to go.
On the flip side, I was inspired to begin a new story based on some of the comments I received in my critiques, and if I get to the end of those 395 tries with my book that just can’t sell, I’ll try querying this one instead.
So, let’s move on.
On the way home from TN on Sunday, Scott called to tell me that his Grandad Currie had passed away earlier that morning. He was in his nineties, still moving around pretty well for his age. In fact, I received a card signed “Love, Grandad Currie” on my birthday just a few days before he passed.
His wife, Scott’s grandmother, died a couple of years ago, and we last visited him in Bartlesville at Christmas. We set the timer on my phone to take a picture of all of us and emailed it to Walgreen’s in town so we could give it to him framed as a present. The things I will remember best about him are his love of Jamocha shakes from Arby’s, his stories about the Navy, and the fact that as long as he could hear you, he laughed the loudest at your jokes.
Orin and Marge Currie, a petroleum engineer and a teacher, leave behind an incredible legacy in their family. I am so lucky to have known them and been welcomed into their home with open arms for the past fifteen years. They will be missed in body, but their spirits are with us, in us, in everything we do.