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Friday, September 29, 2017

#TakeAKnee Brings a lot of Troubling Things to Light

The news cycle is abhorrent basically every day. The divide among US citizens, even with the world, deepens all the time. The latest thing to really get to me is this controversy over #TakeAKnee. The level of vitriol and arrogance is troubling. My overarching concern is this tendency to try to invalidate anything that doesn't directly relate to ones own experience. It's very easy to say "Shut up and stand for the anthem," when what's being protested is not part of your reality. Maybe it's because my eyes have been opened to "sensitivity readings" in writing but I'm deeply troubled by the overwhelming drive to silence others rather than listen. Perhaps, if someone is upset about something enough that they feel moved to do an unpopular thing, we should be concerned about why they feel that upset rather than telling them their feelings are wrong.

This doesn't just apply to racial issues. How many times have women said they feel unsafe when men catcall them, make comments about their appearance, or worse? So many women agree that this kind of behavior is uncomfortable or downright scary for them but you'll always see the comments that these behaviors are meant as a compliment. Women need to settle down and let a man (even a stranger) tell them sexual things and get over themselves. The takeaway is the same. "I don't share your experiences or viewpoint, therefore you're completely wrong and need to stop saying what you're saying and start acting like me." In short, this is a dangerous way of thinking. We can see the evidence every time we turn on the news. The vitriol and absolute hatred between opposing viewpoints is shocking, yet is becoming more and more familiar.

Observing these things has led me to the following realizations that I feel compelled to share. I do not purport to be an expert on the topics or to have answers. These are just the thoughts I'm having right now and I thought they might be used as a springboard for brainstorming better ideas for better outcomes. Constructive ideas and polite viewpoints of others are welcome in the comments.

First, it happens to be the end of Banned Books Week. As a librarian and author, this is something I'm very familiar with. This year, I feel that it ties in perfectly with what we're seeing in the news. Just because you wouldn't read it, doesn't mean someone else doesn't need it. This led me to think about how important it is to see yourself reflected in the books you read. Think about this. I just finished reading Hello, Sunshine by Leila Howland. Now, this is not a political book by any means, but it's the story of blonde haired, blue eyed, 18 year old Becca who was not accepted into any college. She's always loved acting, so she takes a road trip from Boston to LA, with her boyfriend, to try to make it as an actress. Nothing earth shattering, right? It was a book I really enjoyed, but in light of the outrageous responses to #TakeAKnee, I can't help but think that this would be a vastly different book if Becca was an African-American girl. Similarly, if she was an Asian-American, or a Native American, or a Hispanic American, a male character, a gay character, a transgender character, etc. etc.

Think about it. Do you see what I mean? We're all people, but we have different things projected onto us that have nothing to do with who we actually are.  I can't help but think that any of the non-white characters in this fictional retelling would have to struggle against each other to fill a significantly smaller number of acting roles specifically for minority characters in a way the white protagonist did not. Who remembers the outrage when Lenny Kravitz was cast as Cinna in the Hunger Games because readers hadn't visualized Cinna as a black man? On the other side, how many times are diverse characters cast with white actors instead?  Likewise, if the character was a male instead of a female there likely wouldn't be a scene with a creepy stranger hitting on him in a way that makes him wonder if he's safe. If the hypothetical African-American wannabe actress drove across the country with her boyfriend, what other factors might enter into the story? Ever heard the phrase "driving while black?" What I'm getting at is the story might have the same universal theme, but vastly different details which create a different narrative. For an illustration of how these different flavors of life experience impact a person's perception, consider this heartbreaking poem:

"When black boys are born 
We mothers kiss their faces 
Twirl our fingers in their curls 
Put them in carriers on our chest 
Show them to the world 
Our tiny black princes 
And when they start school 
As early as 3
We mothers 
Place huge back packs on their backs 
And we slowly fill them with bricks 
Etched with tools 
Tattooed with truths 
Hoping to save them 
Don't talk back 
Don't get angry 
Say yes ma'am 
Say no sir 
Don't fight
Even if they hit you first
Especially if they are white 
Do your best 
Better than best 
Be still 
Work hardest 
they get a little older 
And we add more 
Keep your hands out of your pockets 
Don't look them in the eye 
Don't challenge 
Don't put your manhood before your life 
Just get home safe 
Don't walk alone 
Don't walk with too many boys 
Don't walk towards police 
Don't walk away from police 
Don't buy candy or ice tea
Don't put your hood up 
I'll drive you 
I'll pick you up 
You can't be free 
Don't go wandering 
Come home to me 
They get a little older 
And we add more 
Understand you are a threat
Standing still 
Your degrees are not a shield 
Your job is not a shield 
Your salary makes you a target 
Your car makes you a target 
Your nice house in a nice neighborhood 
Makes you a target 
Don't put your ego before your safety 
Don't talk back 
Don't look them in the eye
Get home to your wife 
Your son
They weigh them down. 
This knowing 
Of having to carry the load 
Of their blackness 
the world hasn't changed 
The straps just dig deeper into their skin 
Their backs ache 
But their souls don't break 
Our beautiful black men 
When you say to me 
All lives matter 
I simply ask
Will your son die with the world on his back 
Mine will."

Author Unknown

I am a mother of a son and I have to say, I do not have all the same worries for his future that this mother has. It's because we come from a different life frame of reference, but I can appreciate that she has these struggles and I can be sickened by it. I can also try to do whatever I can to lessen these types of burdens by challenging my own perceptions and educating myself. This also showed me that I have different worries for my black friends than I do for my white friends, or my LGBT friends, my female friends, or my male friends. Humans put ourselves and each other into groups. Like it or not, these groups have different stereotypes and pressures placed upon them by the rest of the groups. I think we need to consider this very carefully before we react with trying to dismiss someone's feelings.

Keeping that in mind, I saw a Facebook post by my incredible friend, Joy, who said "True healing cannot come to our nation without relationship." That really struck a chord with me. I think that's exactly the crux of the problem. Looking at Facebook, which is not, of course, the measure of the nation by any means, but I'd venture that, in general, friends lists are primarily filled with people who look like each other. This is not to say there isn't any diversity of friendships, but anecdotally for me, it seems that white friends have mostly white friends, black friends have mostly black friends, etc. There can still be diversity among similar looking friends: religious beliefs, education, sexual identity and orientation, etc. but there's still generally that shared experience among people who are perceived the same as you. But it's got to be a lot harder to play the childish "us" vs "them" when "they" are part of our group. "They" become people with qualities we admire. Shoulders we can cry on. Friends we can laugh with. Not so easy to lump that kind of friend as a "them" you don't want to associate with.

But how can we break out of our seemingly inherent need to be homogenous? It has to be purposeful. I admit, I have plenty of room to improve, to really diversify my group of friends. And I want to! As an adult, it's hard to make new friends as it is, let alone to seek out and try to befriend (without being weird or offensive) someone who might be very different from me. But I'm going to keep trying. In the meantime, while I seek out real connections in my daily life, I also try to broaden my outlook by following a variety of people on Twitter. It may sound trivial, but my eyes have been opened to all sorts of struggles I never would have imagined just by following people and seeing what they deal with and what hurts them.

While I think personal connections, the relationships, my friend mentioned are the best way to change hearts, it can be difficult. I mean, it can be tricky to be in diverse situations in our daily lives. And it takes strength to walk up to anyone and strike up a conversation and get to a point where you feel like you can safely ask a person to meet you for coffee sometime or hang out at the park and not come across as a weirdo. But we shouldn't stop trying, even if it's uncomfortable. In the meantime, we can educate ourselves in far easier and more comfortable ways like following diverse viewpoints on Twitter or reading books by diverse authors. #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #OwnVoices are huge movements in the book world that seek to increase the number of published books that explore diverse content but also allow authors to authentically tell these stories. This means that it's frowned upon for a white woman to write a story about a young black man. The reason for this is what I mentioned above. There are different nuances and details among these life experiences. While the white woman may want to portray her character genuinely and without prejudice, no amount of research can give her the authentic perspective of being a young black man. She should leave that particular story to a black man to write. It will resonate better with the readers and will give an accurate account in a way the woman never could. This is a topic that has caused a lot of backlash but I think writers are starting to really consider what stories are theirs to tell. The least we can do is stop whitewashing and let people of different ethnicities and races tell their own stories. And you know what else we can do? Read them!

I've been trying to read more books by diverse viewpoints and here are a few I've enjoyed. (These are all fiction because that's what I like to read.)

For adults
A House for Happy Mothers - Amulya Malladi 
No One Can Pronounce My Name - Rakesh Satyal 

For teens
Written in the Stars - Aisha Saaed 
Ties That Bind, Ties that Break - Lensey Namioka
The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen - Mitali Perkins

For children
Bud, Not Buddy - Christopher Paul Curtis
Ghost - Jason Reynolds
These are not books, but I highly recommend the Families of the World videos. Each episode takes a look at the daily life of a child in a rural area and an urban area of a different country. It includes what happens in a typical school day, the types of chores kids do, what their home looks like, what they eat, and what they do for fun. Although it's about children, it's a fascinating series for adults as well!

Books I want to read:
The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas
When Dimple Met Rishi - Sandhya Menon

As you can see, even these titles could be more diverse. I know I still have a long way to go but I'm a work in progress.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Pajama Girl returns! Plus PB Critiques Available!

It's early in the game but I just have to tell you that Pajama Girl will be coming to print! Pajama Girl was the Grand Prize winner in the inaugural MeeGenius Author Challenge. From that point on, it remained a bestseller. The number one question I've been asked about Pajama Girl is where can someone purchase a print copy? The answer had been, "There isn't one. It's strictly a digital book." While I will always be extremely grateful that its marvelous digital edition was published, I always held out hope that there would be a print version someday. I, myself, love books. I spend a lot of time in front of screens, both writing books and at my job as a librarian. When I'm ready to curl up with a book, I don't want to be with another glowing screen. I want to breathe in the glorious scent of ink on paper and I want to use my beautiful bookmarks. Ahhhh. It just works for me.

Finally, I decided I've been in the game long enough that I can offer a print edition through my own publishing imprint, 8N Publishing, LLC. It's taken me years of research in children's publishing, a degree in English Literature, a Master's in Library and Information Science, a certificate in e-Marketing, several years as a book reviewer, and an overall love for children's books to get to this point. I coordinate the Local Author fairs at my library. I've seen countless numbers of picture books. I did library storytimes for many years. I learned what makes a book work. I know high quality when I see it. Books are my thing and I'm excited to work with my amazing Pajama Girl illustrator, Ingvard the Terrible, to get this book into the hands of eager readers.

8N Publishing is my brand new company. Its first book is my YA novel, Dream Frequency, which released in June. I'm planning to launch a beautiful hardcover of Pajama Girl by the end of this year. To help offset the production costs, I'm running a GoFundMe. You can use it to preorder an author signed copy of the book which will be mailed out as soon as I have them in hand. If you're an aspiring author, I thought it would be fun to offer picture book critiques as a reward level in my fundraiser. For $85, you can help Pajama Girl come to print, but you can also score yourself a full picture book critique for books up to 1000 words. I will give you a letter and thorough notes on your manuscript. I love to help authors, so I'm happy to offer this service as part of this campaign. There are 10 critique spots available. If your manuscript is not finished yet and you still want to snag one of these critiques, you can use it later when you're ready. I look forward to reading your work!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dream Frequency Cover Reveal!

Since I finished writing this book, I've been waiting for this moment. Seeing my new book cover is the moment when the manuscript gets out of my head and starts to become its own entity in the world. No longer a vague notion, it's a real book. I think this cover is beautiful and I hope you will too. 

While you're waiting for the book to be released, I'm anticipating late June or early July 2017, please add it to your GoodReads shelf and spread the word!  

I'd like to thank Ken Suminski for his incredible talent and dedication to creating a cover that would make me happy. This definitely does. 

Without further ado, I'd like you to meet my second YA novel and conclusion to Dream Girl: Dream Frequency...

I can't stop looking at it! 

Christine would never have considered herself new recruit material for a secret U.S. agency. Until recently, she's just been an ordinary girl graduating from high school and wondering if a friendship with Gabriel, a mysterious coworker, would grow into something romantic. When Christine's fascination with Gabriel leads to her discovery of dreamworlds, she learns that she's anything but ordinary. In this thrilling conclusion to Dream Girl, Christine and Gabriel must choose their allegiances and face corruption, conspiracy, and the complexities of love in order to save themselves and everyone who matters to them - or die trying.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why and How I'm Publishing Dream Frequency

It isn’t an uncommon story these days. Small, independent publishers pop up, put out some books, and then disappear. I’d watched it happen to an author whose blog I follow. Her first book was well received and while she was working on the sequel, her publisher folded. It was difficult news for her and her readers. Luckily, she’d found a new publishing home for both books. What a relief!

When I was nearing completion of my sequel to DREAM GIRL, I got the unfortunate news that my publisher would no longer be publishing fiction. After I worked through my shock and disappointment, I rallied by researching my options. Thinking as a writer, reader, and librarian, here’s what I decided to do:

Once I decided to finish the book and publish it myself, my first step was to see what kind of affordable print options might be out there. I had originally imagined that I would use a local printer whose work I was familiar with and admired, but ultimately, I decided to go with IngramSpark. The deciding factor, for me, is that IngramSpark has distribution. By publishing my book with them, I’d have access to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ingram itself and more. (As a librarian whose library uses Ingram to order our collection, that was pretty important.) By “access to” these venues, I mean that Ingram handles fulfillment. Someone places their order, Ingram prints and ships it and I don’t have to do a thing. Distribution is probably the most important thing beyond having a good product so if you’re thinking of self-publishing, don’t forget to think about how readers can get your book.

After I saw that Ingram has an affordable print and distribution plan, the next thing I did was buy my ISBN and barcode from Bowker.com  I did some research to make sure Bowker was reputable before I actually purchased my ISBN and barcode. 

Ava Jae
Great book with a sequel due out Fall 2017!
Those steps out of the way, I hustled to finish the manuscript. Let’s face it, that’s the hardest work of all. Once I got through my first few drafts, I needed to find an editor. For this project, I wanted two editors. One was my very good author friend, Monica R. Sholar, who read and enjoyed the first book. For the second, I wanted someone who didn’t know me well personally and hadn’t read DREAM GIRL. Technically, all books in a series are supposed to stand on their own, so I wanted to make sure someone who didn’t have any recollections of the first book would be able to enjoy it too. I was delighted to learn that Michigan YA author, Ava Jae, also does affordable freelance editing.  I read her book, BEYOND THE RED, liked her writing style, and thought she’d be a good match for my

Each editor challenged me in a different way and both had great insights that helped me go back and refine the story. In this case, two editorial voices was the right amount. Their changes overlapped in many instances, but there were some big differences as well. Drawing on the expertise of each, I was able to improve the plot, dialogue, descriptions and became very familiar with my particular bad writing habits. The guidance of a good editor is priceless!

This cover still makes me smile.
Before I dove into edits, I decided to get a cover designer. The cover is extremely important to me, and is easily my favorite part of the publishing process. (Or at least a close second to writing the acknowledgments!) It is absolutely necessary that my covers are high quality, professional, compare to the types of covers on similar titles, and make me happy. Luckily, I worked in advertising for a few years. During that time, I made great friends in the graphic design and proofreading departments. I had worked with one of those friends, Ken Suminski, on my bookmark and the cover for my digital short story, SICK DAY. (He’s available to do freelance design work, such as book covers, logo design, and promotional materials for reasonable rates. If you want to see what he can do for you, he can be contacted at k.suminski (at) comcast (dot) net  Put “design referral from Sarah” in the subject.) With my cover in Ken’s capable hands, I went back to editing with my comments from Monica and Ava. I finished my edits shortly after Ken finished the final version of the cover. But there was still more work to be done!

With a shiny new cover that I loved, I was ready to share it with the world! But just like book distribution, I was worried about reaching a broader audience. I decided to book a cover reveal with a blog I’d used to promote DREAM GIRL, YA Bound BookTours.  We set the date for April 19 and I was ready for the next steps of preparing the manuscript: proofreading and print formatting.

For proofreading, I chose another of my advertising connections who had also helped me with DREAM GIRL. For interior formatting, I turned to another Michigan author, MelissaStorm, who is also the owner of Novel Publicity. Melissa highly recommended the work of Mallory Rock, who does cover designs as well as formatting.

In preparation for the final steps of production, I registered as an LLC. I admit, this was a daunting prospect for me, but it turned out to be incredibly easy and painless. I asked a few author friends for guidance and then came across this site of extremely helpful videos. I printed the LLC form, watched the video, and filled it out. (Not scary at all!) For added peace of mind, I got a P.O. box to go with my LLC. If you get a P.O. box, I recommend shopping around. The prices vary widely. I discovered that a small P.O. box for one year in one city cost $108, while the same sized box in another city, just a few miles away, cost $52 per year.

At the time of writing, I currently have the manuscript with my proofreader and will be sending it on to Mallory once proofreading is complete.

Next steps will be finding book reviewers, booking a blog tour, and working on promotion before diving into my next WIP. A writer’s work is never done!

Although I’m not completely through the process yet, I can attest that self-publishing can be an affordable option. There is a lot to think about and deal with when publishing your own book. While it can definitely feel overwhelming and even scary, it’s also exciting and satisfying to guide your own story from idea to finished product. Just as only you can tell the story in your heart, only you can decide the right way to get that story into the hands of readers. Enjoy the journey, and no matter what, keep writing!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year Announcement!

Happy New Year everyone! 2016 was a rough year for a lot of people, but I have nothing but hope, optimism, and excitement for 2017. Why might that be?

For starters, I'm in the final stages of getting the Dream Girl sequel ready for publication. I have received editorial notes from my incredible editor. I am also working with an insanely talented graphic designer to get the cover together. (That will be coming soon and you are going to love it!) I will also being getting edits from another trusted editor. Then I'll revise based on their notes, send to my all star proofreader, and then it's off for typesetting and voila! A new book is born! This is the year!

Now that the release year is here, I thought it'd be the perfect time to finally tell you some things.

1. The book is not called Dream Girl 2. It has its own name. With the cover artwork in production as we speak, the whole endeavor has become very real to me. I know what this beauty is going to look like. It isn't final, so I can't reveal that today (soon, I promise!) but I wanted to share my excitement by announcing to you, my loyal readers, friends, and family. The sequel, and conclusion, to Dream Girl is called Dream Frequency!

2. At this point, the release date is this April. While that might sound like forever to you, it's frighteningly close for all the work that still has to happen to get it into production.

3. You may wonder why I'm talking about doing all this stuff. In case you are, the answer is this. The publisher of Dream Girl, has decided to take a hiatus from publishing fiction. (Yes, that's kind of a bummer.) However, I didn't want to leave you guys hanging. I didn't want to leave Christine and Gabriel hanging either. So I completed the book and through the magic of the modern publishing landscape, I'll be offering a print and ebook version of Dream Frequency. It will have the same availability as Dream Girl, so you'll find it at Amazon, BN.com, iBooks, etc. It's a big undertaking to self-publish a book, which is part of why I'm making this announcement today. I'm going to need your help! Dream Frequency now has an entry on Goodreads. It would be so incredibly helpful if you could add it to your Goodreads shelf and share it with your friends who might enjoy it. There is no better way to get the word out than word of mouth, so if you enjoyed Dream Girl, please tell your friends and let them know the sequel is almost here!

4. Thank you. Seriously. Thank you so very much. Dream Frequency would not exist without you. I have to admit, when I found out my publisher wasn't going to do fiction anymore, I lost all enthusiasm for writing this book. I started writing another book and figured I'd start fresh with that. But your comments and support kept coming. You kept asking what happens next? When will the sequel come out? And then Gabriel and Christine started whispering in my head again. I realized that you guys were out there, waiting for the end of the story, and I couldn't leave you hanging. I couldn't leave Gabriel and Christine hanging either! Even if I had to figure out how to publish it myself, this was something that needed to be done. You kept me going, whether you realize it or not, and I'm so grateful for that.

I hope your new year is starting out with magic and excitement too. Let's make it an incredible year!