Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Quote File: Energy

“Life begets life. Energy becomes energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.” — Sarah Bernhardt

“I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.” — Duke Ellington

Twin Mystery

To many people artists seem
undisciplined and lawless.
Such laziness, with such great gifts,
seems little short of crime.
One mystery is how they make
 the things they make so flawless;
another, what they're doing with
their energy and time.
— Piet Hein

“Judge the goodness of a book by the energy of the punches it has given you. I believe the greatest characteristic of genius, is, above all, force.” — Gustave Flaubert

“Genius is mainly an affair of energy.” — Matthew Arnold

“I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that's as unique as a fingerprint — and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.” — Oprah Winfrey

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. ... No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others. “ — Martha Graham

"We all need to look into the dark side of our nature — that's where the energy is, the passion. People are afraid of that because it holds pieces of us we're busy denying.” — Sue Grafton

"Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal." — Albert Camus

Friday, June 06, 2014

A New Conference + Miscellany

News! Later this month, on June 28, I'll be appearing in a great little mini-conference in my hometown of Belton, Mo. (about half an hour south of Kansas City). I'll give a talk on the five things editors want to see in every manuscript. Then the picture book author (and my best friend) Katy Beebe and I will discuss query letters, particularly the one that led to the publication of her lovely book Brother Hugo and the Bear. And finally, we'll do a first-pages session to round out the morning. Registration is $60, to benefit the Cass County Library Foundation (one of several library systems that made Katy and me the writers and readers we are today). For more information and to register, please click here.

In sad news, last month marked the first month in the nine-year history of this blog where I did not write a single post! Not a one! Part of it can be attributed to this fine fellow:


Mr. Bob Jacob Marley Monohan, who has come to dwell in our apartment and demand my time and attention, cat treats, things to gnaw on (currently a pair of James's cargo shorts that he unwisely left on the couch), etc. Part of it is that I have Twitter to accept all of my random thoughts. Much of it was simply work and life. But I miss writing here. I'm going to try to do a post a week for the rest of the summer, and I hope it will result in good energy all around. 
  • The Great Greene Challenge is still on! Have you gotten your copy yet? It's a great opportunity to support diverse books, an independent bookstore, and fantastic middle-grade in one fell swoop. 
  • As this blog has often served as my running results archive: My sister and I ran the Brooklyn Half-Marathon a couple weeks ago in 2:10. It was my slowest time for a half ever, but I didn't care, because I super-enjoyed running and chatting with her.
  • We have a great new episode of the Narrative Breakdown up here, with Matt Bird and James and I talking character goals and philosophies. Our podcasting has fallen off a bit of late because we lost our sponsor.... If you'd be interested in donating to the cause or sponsoring an episode yourself (a great way to reach a wide audience of writers and other lovers of narrative), please contact us at narrativebreakdown at gmail dot com.  
  • And if you'd like to buy my book SECOND SIGHT, but not through Amazon, please e-mail me at chavela_que at yahoo dot com. I'd be happy to work out alternate means of payment and delivery with you. 
  • Happy summer!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

We Need Diverse Books.

Damn straight.

There is all kinds of great and exciting stuff happening with diverse children's literature these days! By the time you're reading this, the #weneeddiversebooks campaign should be live on social media, May 1-3 -- follow it on Twitter and Tumblr and please share your own thoughts there. Kudos to the awesome team who put that together!


Closer to home, The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson -- a modern, middle-school, multicultural Ocean's 11; a book I edited and am immensely proud of -- is getting a ton of awesome attention from indie booksellers and Varian's fellow authors, who are asking everyone to take the #greatgreenechallenge and help us get a diverse book on the bestseller lists. Kate Messner threw down the initial challenge; Shannon Hale raised the bar; and some guy named John Green sweetened the pot further for bookstores. You can check out all the action at Varian's blog post here. The book has received wide praise from many authors and a starred review from Kirkus, and it was named a Publishers Weekly Best Summer Book of 2014! If you still need more convincing, you can check out this wonderful little prequel as a taster, or just join the challenge and preorder it now. (I advise the latter.) Out officially on May 27, 2014.

Equally exciting:  Sarwat Chadda is going to be in New York for the PEN World Voices panel this coming weekend, and appearing at Books of Wonder and a conversation on writing superheroes on May 3, and a great panel on sex and violence in children's literature on May 4. Good stuff!

Finally, I'm going to post this list here for anyone who might still need diverse book recommendations -- a list of books I've edited featuring diverse protagonists. Diversity has been a priority at Arthur A. Levine Books since the imprint was founded, and it's been a particular passion of mine for years, so I'm very proud of both this list and the many great books on our publishing lists to come.

Books I've Edited Featuring Diverse Protagonists

  • Millicent Min, Girl Genius and Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time by Lisa Yee (MG; Asian-American)
  • Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) and Bobby the Brave (Sometimes) by Lisa Yee (chapter book; biracial, Asian-American)
  • Eighth-Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (MG: American of Black Jamaican descent)
  • If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth (YA; Tuscarora Native American)
  • The Path of Names by Ari Goelman (MG fantasy; Jewish)
  • Marcelo in the Real World, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, and Irises by Francisco X. Stork (YA; Latin@)
  • The Nazi Hunters:  How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb (YA nonfiction; Jewish) 
  • The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman (YA; Chinese)
  • Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg (YA; Gay)
  • Gold Medal Winter by Donna Freitas (MG; Latina)
  • The Savage Fortress and The City of Death by Sarwat Chadda (MG fantasy; British of Indian descent, Hindu(ish))
  • Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy (MG; Afghan, Muslim)
  • The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers (MG; biracial, of British-Caribbean descent) 
  • Moribito:  Guardian of the Spirit and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano (YA fantasy; Asian-inspired) 
  • Above by Leah Bobet (YA fantasy; differently abled cast -- which is putting it mildly -- and biracial protagonist of French and Indian descent)
Yay diverse books! 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Gratitude

My Lenten calendar yesterday asked me to tell someone what I am grateful for. Why not you, Internet? The list could go on forever, so I will do one thing for each day of Lent. These are not in order of importance, but in order of my random brain.


1. My sweet husband, for whom I still have a serious case of newlywed mentionitis.
2. Plain chocolate McVitie's.
3. The air traffic control system.
4. The students in my NYU class.
5. My mom.
6. My dad.
7. My sister, who is awesome and always makes me laugh, & her husband and son.
8. Pigeons (except the ones nesting in the exterior heating grate of our apartment). 
9. My apartment.
10. My best friend, Katy, who has a picture book coming out next month (about which more soon).
11-17. Melissa Anelli, Emily Clement, Donna Freitas, Rachel Griffiths, Mallory Kass, Ted Salk, Jill Santopolo.
18. My aunts, uncles, & cousins.
19. Ketchup.
20. Good picture books in rhyme.
21. Marla Frazee's illustrations.
22. The chance to teach my class, & to teach at various workshops around the country.
23. My authors and illustrators, particularly at the moment Vicky Alvear Shecter, who took me to a Waffle House & an antiquities museum in Atlanta this weekend.
24. The ability to run distances.
25. Good health in general.
26. Pencils & their sharpeners.
27. Kindness.
28. NPR, particularly WNYC.
29. Park Slope United Methodist.
30. The New Yorker.
31. The miracle that is my iPhone -- a miniature supercomputer in my hand, on which I'm writing this whole post. 
32. Fruit & nut chocolate bars.
33. A glass of wine at the end of a day.
34. The song "I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)"
35. The work of Jane Austen, Jennifer Crusie, Patrick O'Brian, Dorothy Sayers, J. K. Rowling, Rainbow Rowell, and Hilary McKay.
36-37. The novel Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, who introduced me to it.
38. Hotel breakfast buffets.
39. People who think before they speak and are capable of quiet.
40. Sweet potatoes, roasted, baked, and fried, in fries, tater tots, and sushi.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

My Lenten Calendar


I like disciplines (cf. my half-marathon training going on now), but I also like where my life is now generally and don't feel a call to give anything up. Thus I'm going to adapt the House for All Sinners and Saints' 2012 Lenten Calendar for my own instead. Sharing my adapted version here (with dates for 2014) in case it interests you too:

March 5: Pray for your enemies
March 6: Buy a few $5 fast food gift cards to give to homeless people you encounter
March 7: Internet diet
March 8: Give $20 to a non-profit of your choosing

(Sunday)

March 10: Take 5 minutes of silence at noon
March 11: Look out the window until you find something of beauty you had not noticed before
March 12: Give 5 items of clothing to Goodwill
March 13: No bitching day
March 14: Do someone else’s chore
March 15: Buy a few $5 fast food gift cards to give to homeless people you encounter

(Sunday)

March 17: Call an old friend
March 18: Pray the Paper (pray for people and situations in today’s news)
March 19: Read Psalm 139 http://bible.oremus.org
March 20: Pay a few sincere compliments
March 21: Bring your own mug
March 22: Educate yourself about human trafficking www.praxus.org

(Sunday)

March 24: Forgive someone
March 25: Internet diet
March 26: No sugar day – where else is there sweetness in your life?
March 27: Check out morning and evening prayer at http://dailyoffice.wordpress.com
March 28: Ask for help
March 29: Tell someone what you are grateful for

(Sunday)

March 31: Introduce yourself to a neighbor
April 1: Read Psalm 121 http://bible.oremus.org
April 2: Bake a cake
April 3: No shopping day
April 4: Light a virtual candle http://rejesus.co.uk/spirituality/post_prayer/
April 5: Light an actual candle

(Sunday)

April 7: Write a thank you note to your favorite teacher
April 8: No shopping day
April 9: Use Freecycle www.freecycle.org
April 10: Donate art supplies to your local elementary school
April 11: Read John 8:1-11 http://bible.oremus.org
April 12: Worship at a friend’s mosque, synogogue or church and look for the beauty

(Sunday)

April 14: Confess a secret
April 15: No sugar day – where else is there sweetness in your life?
April 16: Give $20 to a local non-profit
April 17: Educate yourself about a saint www.catholic.org/saints
April 18: Pray for peace
April 19: Pray for your enemies (you probably have new ones by now) then decide which of these exercises you’ll keep for good

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

A Few Brief Things

Also known as, "I was tired of seeing the stalker post first on my blog."

  • But good news on that front! Melissa was interviewed by both a New Zealand reporter and NPR regarding the situation, and we're hopeful this attention has created some new movement on the case. At the very least, she has appreciated all the support.
  • Nice awards news: The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb DID win the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award back in January, as well as the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Teens! Yay Neal!
  • And just yesterday, Bill Konigsberg's Openly Straight won the SCBWI's Sid Fleischman Award for Humor! As a friend of mine observed, it's terrific to see this book getting recognized for something awesome about it (its sense of humor) that is not the obvious thing that's awesome about it (its thought-provoking take on being a gay teenager in the present time). Or, in the book's own terms, it's great that it's being seen for something beyond its label. Yay Bill!
  • (If there are any other kids/YA book awards named for Sidneys, please let me know, as my books seem to be having luck with them at present.)
  • The lovely Jill Santopolo -- Philomel executive editor and author of the wonderful new Sparkle Spa chapter-book series -- came on the Narrative Breakdown to talk middle-grade fiction with me recently.
  • I will be speaking at the SCBWI Southern Breeze Springmingle conference in Atlanta at the end of the month, giving my Plot Master Class, a talk on character, and a new talk. You can still register for all of it!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Signal Boost: Stop a Stalker in New Zealand

Trigger warnings for stalking, violence, and anti-Semitic language in the post below; also rage. Sorry. 

My friend Melissa Anelli is an awesome person, for many, many reasons. She runs the Harry Potter megasite the Leaky Cauldron and its spinoff, LeakyNews. She wrote the definitive guide to the Harry Potter phenomenon, Harry, A History, a wonderful read (in which I am a supporting character) that taught ME new things about Harry Potter. She co-created LeakyCon, an amazing fan convention, with over 4,000 attendees and counting. She hosted my bachelorette party last year and took some of the best pictures of my wedding. She is a great aunt, sister, daughter, and friend, and her warmth, passion, creativity, and energy inspire me every day.

And for the past FIVE AND A HALF years, she has been stalked online and through the mail by a crazy woman in New Zealand, who sends her messages like this:

Someone forgets I pay attention, sweetheart. As I've said a few times before, you're going to have to wait until July for anything further. If NZ does extradite Dotcom, they can do the same to me when and if the Feds ask. Too bad they've had to wait two and a half years, kike bitch. 
That is very, very far from the worst of it. Maureen Johnson has more context in her excellent Tumblr post here. The general theory with regard to stalkers seems to be that you should not acknowledge them directly, because they get off on being acknowledged directly, on that demonstration of their power over you, and if they can't get that recognition, eventually they will go away. That has not worked with this crazy woman, to the extent that Melissa still gets multiple messages a day, frequently violent or sexual in nature. The FBI and New Zealand law enforcement have been involved for years as well, and the woman still hasn't given up, or been incarcerated for good. Melissa went public with her Tumblr post today to bring attention to the length of time this has been going on, and to ask for help in getting the situation resolved.

I don't hate many people. I hate this woman. I want her to be stopped. I want her to get help most of all, to be treated and recover from whatever mental illness she has that has fixated her on my friend; but if that's not possible -- and this stalker has checked herself out of treatment centers before -- I want her in jail, away from phones and computers and with no chance of getting out of the country, where she can entertain her twisted thoughts in her own sick mind and nowhere else. But the law hasn't yet caught up with all of the ramifications of our new online worlds and forms of communication, and New Zealand law enforcement seems to think that online stalking isn't as serious and insidious as in-person stalking could be. It is, and it should be prosecuted on an equal basis, so this woman can be put away.

If you are on Tumblr, please reblog Maureen's or Melissa's posts. If you know someone in New Zealand, particularly someone in authority, please pass those posts on to them and say "HEY. Would you do something here already?" If you know someone who is being stalked, point them to the stories on Melissa's Tumblr so they know they aren't the only ones in that situation and they aren't just imagining things, and listen, support, be there for them as much as you can.

And if you are the stalker and you're reading this: You are sick. You know it. I hate you, it's true; but it's possible for you to be forgiven if you end this -- if you say you want help, you get it, and you give this up. You don't have to be so miserable; you don't have to make other people miserable. Please get the help or restraints you need, and stop.

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Quote File: Gustave Flaubert

"It's a very baffling act, writing. Flaubert looked at the skies and spent three weeks trying to describe one. I mean, the sky exists anyhow; why should one want to put it down on paper?...It is as if the life lived has not been lived until it is set down in...words." – Edna O’Brien

Anything becomes interesting if you look at it long enough.

The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.

It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes.

It is so easy to chatter about the Beautiful. But it takes more genius to say, in proper style, “close the door,” or “he wanted to sleep,” than to give all the literature courses in the world.

Prose is like hair; it shines with combing. 
 
Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything.

The author, in his work, must be like God in the Universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.

Style is as much under the words as in the words. It is as much the soul as it is the flesh of a work.

One mustn't always believe that feeling is everything. In the arts, it is nothing without form.

Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work. 

Exuberance is better than taste.
  
The most glorious moments in your life are not the so-called days of success, but rather those days when out of dejection and despair you feel rise in you a challenge to life, and the promise of future accomplishments.
 
Success is a consequence and must not be a goal.

Nothing is more humiliating than to see idiots succeed in enterprises we have failed in.
 
The better a work is, the more it attracts criticism; it is like the fleas who rush to jump on white linens.
 
Judge the goodness of a book by the energy of the punches it has given you. I believe the greatest characteristic of genius, is, above all, force.

There is no truth. There is only perception.

Of all lies, art is the least untrue. 
 
To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost. 

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

In Defense of CBC Diversity, and on the Complexities of Publishing Diverse Books

[The CCBC-Net listserv is currently debating the state of multiculturalism/diversity in children's and YA books in 2014. I'm posting this e-mail I sent to the listserv about a year ago here for reference in this discussion. I also encourage readers to check out the great posts at the CBC Diversity Tumblr, particularly the recent Industry Q&A with Donna Bray.]

February 16, 2013


Hi Everyone,


I am a co-founding former member of the CBC Diversity Committee, and an editor at a large publishing house here in New York; and as such, I’d like to write and correct some misconceptions both about the committee and about publishing diverse books in general. (I am a former member of the committee because I chose to rotate off of it at the end of 2012 to let fresh voices come on; I do not speak for CBC Diversity officially here, but I support it 100%. And while I’m doing disclaimers, I’m not speaking for my company here either; these are strictly my views as an editor who has long published diverse books and authors and thus has been thinking and talking about these issues for years.)

The CBC Diversity Committee was originally founded by a small group of editors after conversations at a writers’ conference in, I believe, early 2009. We were all passionate about publishing books by and about people of varying races, ethnicities, religions, and sexualities, and we all had a number of these books already on our lists; and for a couple years, we met to discuss many of the issues that have been raised in this CCBC-Net discussion. However, we were also all editors, with time-consuming responsibilities to our beloved authors and illustrators and publishing houses, and it was difficult for us to get much momentum going as a group. In 2011, one of our members met with someone from the CBC, which had been thinking about diversity as well, and the CBC invited our group to become an official committee working on these questions.

In the year or so since, with the organizational support of the CBC and the truly wonderful people there, we’ve started a blog to foster discussions of the many facets of publishing diverse books and raise awareness of these books among the public; hosted an event for agents to introduce them to editors interested in publishing diverse books (beyond the committee members), a panel on creating covers and the awareness panel at ALA (which was not sponsored by ALA), and private discussions for publishers; launched a “Diversity 101” series on the blog to help educate children’s book professionals and general readers about the basics of various kinds of diversity (check out Cris Beam’s terrific post on transgenderism:  http://www.cbcdiversity.com/2013/02/diversity-101-transgender-perspective.html); and reached out to high schools and Career Days around New York City to try to educate a more diverse population of students about the career opportunities available in publishing. We also created booklists featuring diverse authors and topics on our website; the books suggested come directly from CBC member publishers, so if the publisher of a particular book hasn’t included it on the list it sent along, then it’s not included on the CBC list.


Contrary to an earlier assertion, the committee does not think of itself as the one and only ”place to go” for books with diverse characters; but it is doing its best, with entirely volunteer efforts, to highlight those books and issues and get them more widely known. And very little of this industry action was happening before the committee existed! So the CBC Diversity Committee is on the side of everyone fighting to create more authentic and diverse books, and I am puzzled and grieved by commenters here who are treating the committee as if it’s the enemy, simply because it has not 100% matched their ideological standards of publishing purity, or solved all of the complexities of publishing diverse books.


And there are complexities! I could write an essay on each of these topics, but briefly:


The pipeline issue:  We editors don’t see enormous numbers of manuscripts from writers of color, certainly not in percentages proportionate to the population, and we can’t publish manuscripts that don’t come to us.


The suitability issue:  It’s a publishing fact of life that we must turn down 97% (guesstimate) of the manuscripts we see from writers of ANY race or ethnic background, because we can only take on so many books, and because many titles simply aren’t unique enough for publication, or right for our house or a particular editor’s list (as every editor has a slightly different definition of “good,” just as every reader does).


The staffing issue:  It’s true that publishing houses and publishing staffs are overwhelmingly Caucasian in complexion — which is again partly a pipeline issue, as we see far more white applicants for jobs than we do people of color. (Which in turn ties into many larger socioeconomic factors:  Publishing does not pay a great deal compared to being a lawyer or doctor or financier, say, so those industries siphon off a lot of prospective talent.) That’s one of the things the CBC Diversity Committee is designed to address, with our outreach to colleges and Career Days.


-- How CCBC-Net Readers Can Help --:  If you know a smart young reader of color, particularly one in high school or college, tell them how books are made! Tell them it takes not just authors, but editors and publicity staff and salespeople, and they can be one of them. Take them to ALA or BEA so they can see these people in action. Tell them internships are available. Tell them about my blog post here about how to get  into publishing:  http://chavelaque.blogspot.com/2006/08/faq-2-how-do-i-become-book-editor.html, the blog posts linked at the bottom, and the “How I Got Into Publishing” Posts on the CBC Diversity blog. If there’s more awareness of these jobs among people of color, hopefully more of them will get into the industry.


The editorial issue: All editorial relationships require careful conversation, honesty, and sensitivity on both sides. When an editor is working cross-culturally, that necessitates an added layer of sensitivity, humility, and listening regarding these cultural issues, which might then require balance with the narrative and aesthetic needs of the book. This is another thing the CBC Diversity Committee is designed to do, is to help make editors aware of cultural sensitivities and mentor them in working cross-culturally.


Authors have responsibilities here too:  to speak up for what’s important to them in the text; to do as much research and reading and listening and vetting as possible if they’re writing cross-culturally; to educate editors, sometimes, as a book’s editor will usually not be able to go into as much depth on a topic as the author will, simply because the editor has to monitor a large number of books and authors. Every editor-author relationship is different; every book is different. But contrary to the impression prior commenters here might have made, it is totally possible for an editor and an author with different ethnic backgrounds to publish books successfully and happily on both sides. (You can ask Francisco X. Stork and Lisa Yee on my own list, or Rita Williams-Garcia, Sherman Alexie, Kadir Nelson, Jacqueline Woodson, Joe Cepeda, Allen Say, Yuyi Morales . . .)


The sales issue:  In thinking about the diversity question a few years back, I reviewed a decade of Publishers Weekly end-of-year sales roundups (the top 100 titles sold each year), and if you took out award winners and Dora the Explorer, there were very, very few faces of color on those lists. (The PW Top 100 numbers are not a very good measure, granted, but it was the best I could do in trying to consider sales across all houses, as sales figures are proprietary information.) Bestseller lists are not the be-all and end-all of publishing; we know full well that not every book can become a bestseller. But it is a Publishing Law that strong sales of one title encourage publishers and booksellers to take on similar titles. 


-- How CCBC-Net Readers Can Help --:  BUY BOOKS BY AND ABOUT PEOPLE OF COLOR. Oh my goodness, I can’t say this enough. Buy them, and then put them out on displays year-round, and handsell them to your customers, even those who are resistant. (Bonus points if the book features a person of color on the cover.) Show a strong pattern of support for these authors and books, even make a bestseller here, and that will change publishing more than all of our talk can.


And all of this plays into the marketing issue — how publishers and book creators reach “mirror” audiences (to use Rudine Simms Bishop’s excellent phrase; please read http://www.rif.org/us/literacy-resources/multicultural/mirrors-windows-and-sliding-glass-doors.htm if you’re unfamiliar with it); how we communicate with window audiences; how we can maximize our resources to maximize sales for the book. We talked about this a lot at the CBC Diversity Committee when I was on it, and we publishers are always trying to do better at it. No publisher WANTS to see any of its books fail — we all want to keep our jobs, for one thing! And those jobs are predicated on the success of our business and our books.   


-- How CCBC-Net Readers Can Help --:  Do indeed look for books by and about people of color in catalogs and at conferences and bookstores; and then TALK ABOUT THEM — not just in the “I could only find X number of authors” way (though it’s important to make those figures known), but in the “Look at these X number of awesome books I found at ALA and I’m so excited to read the ARCs!” way. Name those titles! Blog about them! Invite the author to speak or to Skype with your class! Retweet links about them! Bring them up here at CCBC-Net -- right now, in fact: If everyone on the list wrote in with their favorite Latino picture book of the last few years, it would increase awareness of those titles tenfold. (Here's mine, with an editorial bias alert:  Welcome to My Neighborhood: A Barrio ABC, by Quiara Alegria Hudes, illustrated by Shino Arihara. Runner up: Tia Isa Wants a Car by Meg Medina, illustrated by Claudio Munoz.)

E-mail publishers to say you're glad to see them taking on diverse books and you’d like to see more. E-mail your local public library to encourage him or her to buy the book, and your kid’s teacher or school librarian (if you’re lucky) or school district to make them aware that it’s a title you’d love to see read more widely. I LOVE the idea raised here earlier about getting even a fraction of Chicago schools to buy a book — let’s figure out a way to make that happen! Positive reinforcement tends to be much more effective than shaming, with children and with children’s publishers. 


And if you have ideas about where and how we publishers should be finding diverse authors, or marketing and promoting these diverse books in a way that we aren’t already — please, share that here! Our resources go only so far, but if there’s an opportunity we’re missing and a market we can grab, we’d love to know about it.


Books break through with support from not just publishing houses but readers – librarians, booksellers, book buyers, book bloggers. To say this louder:  READERS MAKE BOOKS “HAPPEN,” not publishers. Every publisher can cite an incident in which they threw their entire marketing weight behind a book and it disappeared – and then that one book that nobody expected to break through at acquisition or even publication, that took off like a shot once that one librarian on a committee raved about it, or that one blogger, or just one kid talking to another kid talking to another on the playground. When publishers DO make books succeed, it’s most often because we people who work at publishing houses are readers too, and WE talk passionately about a book and get other people to read it. But the power is in readers’ hands foremost.


I’m sorry to have written at such length, and to have made authors and books of color an “issue” here when so many of the books are just great books in and of themselves. But I wanted to raise some of the practical complexities we editors face on the ground in trying to publish more diverse books — complexities that are real facts in our lives, and that I haven’t often seen raised in the discussion so far here or elsewhere. Editors and publishers and the CBC Diversity Committee are operating with limited resources, just like authors and librarians and everyone else on this list, but like you, we also work with the very best of intentions and hopes for creating great books for all readers. Thanks to all of you who support these books in whatever way you can.


With best wishes,


Cheryl Klein

Thursday, January 30, 2014

India Is Everything


For Christmas in 2007, about a year and a half after we met, I gave James this Lonely Planet guide to India, which we both very much wanted to visit. The book was an investment and a promise, a pledge and a challenge. But through the next five years, as other journeys and interests took up our lives, it sat on a shelf, quietly waiting. 

Then it came time to plan our honeymoon, and there was never any doubt where we were going.

A screen at the Qutb Minar complex in south Delhi 

James did nearly all of the planning here, and deserves all of the credit. We started in Delhi, in the "Mughal North" -- so called because many of the ancient buildings were built by the Mughal emperors . . .


. . . including this one, built by Shah Jahan as a tomb for his wife, Mumtaz, near Agra (where we went next). Twenty-two thousand people labored for twenty-one years on the Taj. Shah Jahan intended to build a black mausoleum that was otherwise identical to the Taj Mahal across the river from it, but his son Aurangzeb felt that he was spending too much time and money on buildings, so he imprisoned his father until his death here . . .


. . . in the Agra Fort, in an apartment with a view of the Taj. We learned incredible history like this over and over again in India -- of Akbar, Shah Jahan's grandfather, who established tolerance between Muslims and Hindus (before Aurangzeb threw it away), and the process of Independence and Partition, so very human and complicated -- and it made me angry with my world history classes in school, because why were we so big on Europeans when Indian history was just as awesome? Why didn't we learn about this too? 

These forts are astonishing structures -- huge castles that outdo any European fortresses I know of in scale and impact. The Agra Fort here was specially designed to withstand attack by an enemy who would be riding elephants, including a sloped, walled entranceway where defenders could pour boiling oil on invaders, and then roll boulders down the ramp if the oil didn't work. 


From Agra, we went to Jaipur, stopping along the way at the Chand Baori stepwell, which movie-loving readers might recognize from The Dark Knight Rises.


We splurged on the services of several drivers for most of our time in India -- a true luxury, as we didn't have to worry about catching trains or hauling baggage. (On the other hand, we often felt a little isolated from daily life, and Indian highways are the closest thing to a living game of Super Mario Kart I ever hope to experience in real life.) Nearly all of the trucks were painted with wonderful colors and designs. I asked one of our drivers why they were so decorated, and he said basically, "Why not?" -- and indeed, our solid American trucks and buses feel very boring and impersonal by comparison. 



Outside Jaipur, we visited the Amber and Jaigarh Forts, finding our way from one to the other through an open tunnel with monkeys watching us from overhead. (I told James, "This is what a honeymoon should be! Adventure plus monkeys!") In the city, we marveled at the decoration of the City Palace, including these peacocks.


We spent a lovely night at the Deogarh Mahal -- a former maharaja's palace, now converted into a luxury hotel straight out of a fantasy novel. We scrambled over the flat roofs taking pictures, saw a Rajasthani dance performance in the courtyard here, and walked the narrow, twisting streets outside, purchasing a number of shawls from a kind shopkeeper who promised to feed us dinner the next time we came to town.


One of our most unexpected and delightful excursions was a two-hour train ride through the Rajasthani mountains, which our driver arranged for us. A little wizened man with a kettle poured us tiny disposable cups of chai (hot, delicious, sweet Indian spiced milk tea that I could happily drink at every meal for the rest of my life), for the grand price of ten rupee each (about twenty cents).


More monkeys at a train stop. I never got tired of seeing them.


From there, we went to Udaipur, the "Venice of the East" for its location on the banks of Lake Pichola. (The Lake Palace Hotel here appeared in the film Octopussy, which played every night at half the restaurants in town.) This was likely our favorite city in India, as we loved the winding streets and views of the lake, and a wonderful vegan restaurant called Millets of Mewar, where we went for breakfast, lunch, and dinner over the three days we were in town.


In the city garden, this group of tourists stopped James and me and asked us to pose for pictures with them. This happened over and over again in India, pretty much everywhere we went, and especially with groups of schoolchildren or teenagers. (It is weird to think how many people's vacation photos I appear in.) I asked these ladies if I could take a picture of them minus me, because I was madly jealous of all the gorgeous saris, shalwar kameezes, tunics, and other clothes I saw on women throughout the country, but I rarely had the opportunity to take photos of said clothing with permission. As with the trucks, the brightness puts our Western neutrals to shame. 


From Udaipur, we flew to Mumbai, which I also really liked.... While we did not see a great deal of the enormous city, what we did see felt like New York to me, crowded and cosmopolitan, a mix of old architecture and new structures, tradition and the cutting edge, and as everywhere in India, the enormous contrast between rich and poor. This is the city's laundry center, where (according to our tour guide, whose hand you can see here) nearly all the laundry that is sent out for washing is still hand-scrubbed, hung, and ironed. Note the skyscrapers standing just beyond.

The ironies of this contrast are further explored in Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, a nonfiction book I read on the trip, which I cannot recommend highly enough as a portrait of a community, an exploration of the causes and effects of poverty, and an extraordinary work of reportage and writing. It is set in a slum near the Mumbai airport in 2008, and I found myself constantly thinking of the people in the book while we were in the city -- wishing almost that I might run into them and find out what happened next in their lives.

The other book about India I would recommend enormously, both as historical context and just as a wonderful read, is Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, by Alex von Tunzelmann. It traces the causes of the British withdrawal, the thrill of Independence, and the disaster of Partition through five fascinating figures:  Dickie Mountbatten, the British envoy; his wife Edwina, who was arguably more competent; Jawaharlal Nehru, who had an intense affair with Edwina in the midst of becoming India's first prime minister; Mohandas Gandhi, who comes off terribly; and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. I kept leaning over to James to tell him fascinating facts I was learning -- such as the fact that Pakistan is a made-up name, as before Partition, there were no people called "Pakis." Rather, it was an acronym for the northwestern, mostly Muslim regions of India selected for the country: Punjab, Afghania Province, Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan. Illuminating, no? And it reminded me how much the history we take as settled fact is in fact made of people's choices, like the ones our leaders decide every day...


After our tour of Mumbai, we went to see a delightfully ridiculous Bollywood film called Dhoom 3, which was Moulin Rouge meets The Prestige via Bad Boys. We couldn't understand any of the Hindi dialogue, but this mostly wasn't a problem. (Sample dialogue for the Americans: EVIL BANKER: "Who's robbing my bank?" BLONDE FEMALE COP: "It's a thief, sir.")


This was taken at Elephanta Island -- a historic site about six miles off the coast of Mumbai (with no elephants, for the record) -- and the litter was unfortunately very typical of everywhere we went in India. . . .


But then, so was the wonder I felt on seeing this, also on Elephanta -- a relief sculpture of the god Shiva, deep in a cave, radiating peace, and carved in the sixth century A.D. -- easily one of the oldest, most awe-inspiring places I've ever been. If we ever return to India, as we hope to do someday, I want to visit more sculpture caves like this.

 

Always good advice. 

From Mumbai, we flew to Kerala, the state at the southwestern tip of the subcontinent known as "God's Own Country" -- and if you told me the Garden of Eden was located there, I would believe you. We stayed for three nights at a cardamom plantation in the mountains near Thekkady.


One day we took a three-hour nature trek through the Periyar Nature Reserve, where we saw this mama and baby elephant feeding in the wild. We also saw an awesome demonstration of kalaripayattu, which thrilled me especially, as it's the martial art that Ash Mistry learns in The Savage Fortress and The City of Death.



Then we descended to the coast, where we spent a delicious night on a houseboat in the backwaters. I got up at six a.m. and watched the sun rise from our deck, along with thousands of talkative waterbirds.

On our last leg of the trip, we went to Mysore, where we visited the palace and zoo, and stayed in another palace, the Lalitha Mahal:

 Yeah, I could eat breakfast here every morning.

And our last activity of the journey was visiting a friend's digital animation company in Bangalore -- on the nineteenth floor of an anonymous office building, the lights off and the windows covered in shades, three hundred animators at rows of flatscreen computers carefully sculpting a nose here, a gesture there. That, too, is India.

As a honeymoon, it was not the easiest:  I have never been on a trip that thrust my extreme privilege as a white American, and how easy I do have it, and how intractable the world's problems are, so much in my face over and over again. I keep turning those issues over back in my New York bubble -- where we have so little history, comparatively; where I can drink the water -- and I am not sure where to start. But as a personal experience, I learned so much, and did so much, and rested and read so much, and saw so much, so that I felt sometimes like nothing but a pair of eyes -- and ate so much, as oh my goodness, the food, the FOOD -- we have no sense of how to cook vegetables here, really, and I could also happily eat Indian food (especially Southern) at every meal for the rest of my life. And I haven't mentioned the tea plantations or the security, the cement advertisements or the languages, the milk scammers in Mumbai or James's obsession with Shantaram, the ways in which their environmental adaptations are ahead of ours, our wonderful friends in Delhi or the boat ride in Udaipur or praying in a temple and all the other monkeys we saw . . .

It was everything I hoped it would be -- a wonderful, challenging trip that stretched my mind in the best ways. And I am so very grateful for it, and for the husband who planned it; and everything goes on.