Saturday, February 20, 2016

On Obligation and Percy

After a few months of getting into the groove in my new day job (reading teacher at a new school), and several family issues, here I am at o'dark thirty on a Saturday morning before spending the morning at the car dealership having maintenance done on my 2004 van with 203,000+ miles on it, finally writing a post in 2016.

Through all the craziness of the last few months, I have submitted my second picture book manuscript to a number of very (too?) carefully picked agents. I've gotten some rejections, but that hasn't deterred me. I am determined, if nothing else. Perseverance is my middle name. Just call me Percy. Which is a character trait I share with my great Aunt Lois, the main character of my second picture book, Lois Dreamed. This narrative non-fiction biography picture book brings to light several very telling family stories that illustrate Aunt Lois's tenacity which led her to be a ground breaker for her time and for her people, my people, the Sappony.

I've also re-opened a discussion with an editor on my first picture book, Talent, the 2014 Lee & Low New Voices Honor Award winner. Talent is a contemporary story with a STEM foundation of a Sappony girl at our annual youth camp. There is no telling what will happen with that discussion, but again, Percy.

What makes me Percy when it would be so much easier to just can the whole writing thing or just write for my own pleasure rather than continue to work and fight to be published?

Obligation. I heavily feel an obligation to do everything I can to add to the number of books BY indigenous people that are published each year. For more on that you can read Paula Lee's Salon article in which I was quoted (minor correction is that I'm more of a pb/MG and down-the-road maybe YA writer), You can also read Paula Lee's article that started #weneedindigenouswriters. Or you can look at the disparity in numbers of books published BY vs. ABOUT American Indians/First Nations people from the CCBC which points out that of the few children's books that feature Native people, most are not written by Native people, which unfortunately means that a majority of them pass on stereotypes and inaccuracies about Native people. Ellen Oh's brave, well spoken and thoughtful post about that (which my only caveat would be that it is not just white writers) as well as Stacey Lee's spot-on Dear Non-Asian Writer article and numerous reviews on Debbie Reese's American Indians in  Children's Literature blog where Debbie thoughtfully details cultural problems with many books written about Natives by non-Natives, all point out why that obligation exists.

Obligation. I don't know any white writers who feel an obligation to have their stories published so that white people will be finally accurately represented. But that layer of heaviness, that obligation does live in non-white writers. Sure, I am also a lover of great books, a voracious reader, a word nerd and writing is my creative outlet of choice. Absolutely. But the heaviness of obligation . . .

Just because the craziness of the past few months wasn't enough, I'm adding to it by taking a month long MG course to learn all I can about writing successfully for that audience while I begin my first MG novel. It starts next Monday, and during that month, both of my children will be having minor surgeries.

I don't know how I'll do it, but I'll do it. Percy.

I'm excited about the course and excited to dive into MG! I'm also very excited to be submitting my two picture books and trying to get a great agent fit.

Here's to 2016!