From today’s Publisher’s Weekly, a review of This Thing Called the Future: “Through the eyes of a conflicted teenager, Powers (The Confessional) composes a compelling, often harrowing portrait of a struggling country, where old beliefs and rituals still have power, but can’t erase the problems of the present. Readers will be fully invested in Khosi’s efforts to secure a better future.”
This past weekend, while I was at the Tucson Book Festival, a fellow young adult writer told me that my new novel, This Thing Called the Future, was beautifully designed. “But,” she added, “you do know that only a publisher like Cinco Puntos Press would publish a cover with a picture of that young lady on the cover of the book.”
I knew what she was saying without saying it: The young lady on the cover of my book is too black. In fact, the young lady on the cover of my book is all African; the photo was taken by a friend of mine in a Cape Town township.
It reminded me of a controversy a few years ago with the young adult book Liar by Justine Larbalestier. Though the protagonist of Justine’s novel is black, the publisher initially released a cover depicting a white girl. What’s interesting to me, however, is that though the publisher finally did release a cover with a picture of a black girl, she is still pretty light-skinned and pretty in all the traditionally anglo-cized ways.
This has been a raging controversy for the past couple of years. According to Colleen Mondor on Bookslut,
Specifically regarding the cover controversy issue, the blogosphere conversation seems to have overlooked a key component to the issue: taking time to fully examine WHY the publishers whitewash the covers. From what I’ve read, all the time is spent talking about why they shouldn’t. But why do they? Obviously: To Make Money. And someone, somewhere has convinced them that whitewashed books sell better.”
Ms. Mondor goes on to say that it’s more complicated than that. Sometimes publishers do suggest appropriate images for covers, and gatekeepers, or the authors themselves, convince them not to go down that path. She says,
“From the many conversations I had over the past month, the only thing that is clear when it comes to diversity and publishing is its utter and complete lack of consistency.”
Sometimes, it seems like life is about slogging through all the spam and junk mail.
A couple days ago, I got a call from a telemarketer. As soon as he started his spiel, “Hi, I’m Matt from a home security systems company—,” I interrupted.
“STOP,” I said. “I want you to take me off your call list.”
“What?” he said.
“I want you to take me off your call list.” I spoke slowly and carefully, as though I was talking to an idiot. But really, it was because there was an echo in the call so I kept hearing my own voice coming back at me, repeating everything I said a second after I said it.
“What?” he said.
“Take me off your call list,” I demanded. I enunciated each word clearly. Due to the echo, I got distracted halfway through and had to start over. “And if you can’t do it, put me through to a supervisor.” And if you can’t do it, put me through to a supervisor, echoed back.
“No,” he said.
“Okay, put me through to a supervisor.”
“Okay,” he said.
There was a little click, and then the same guy I’d just been talking to said, “Hi, I’m Matt, how can I help you?”
“I was just talking to you! I want you to take me off your call list!”
“No,” he said.
“No, you won’t take me off your call list?” I was sputtering by now. Yes, taken by surprise.
“No,” he agreed. “I won’t.”
“I’m going to report you to the Better Business Bureau,” I said, except I think it came out “Business Better Bureau” because I was so flustered and everything I said to him was still echoing back.
“Fine,” he said.
“Fine?” Now I was echoing him. “What’s the name of your business?” I asked, realizing I didn’t actually know.
“That sounds like a great question for the specialist,” he said.
“Put me through to the specialist,” I snapped.
“Okay,” he said, and hung up on me.
What a complete and total asshole.
Since he called me on my cell phone and I was able to see the number he’d called from (a number that had been calling me every ten minutes since 7 a.m., and which I’d already called back and tried to get my number removed from their call list), I did report the call to the FCC. And I’ve never had to put my cell phone number on the National Do Not Call registry, but it’s listed there now.
About twice a month, it takes me an hour or more to shred all the junk mail that comes. That’s three or four hours of my life, gone. You people out there who think all that advertising is working…it’s just annoying.
Because I am a new mother working at home with limited childcare, I have been thinking lately how I have no models for how to do this in a healthy and productive manner—healthy for my relationship with my 5-month-old son, productive for my work and my career.
Growing up in the church, I knew very few married women who worked, period. Those who did were usually not professionals, and there was this vague sense that floated from and towards them that they had to work because their husbands didn’t make enough money. I might add that their children were not the best behaved on the block, which added to the sense that their situation was less than ideal. Among the professional women I knew, one was a physical therapist whose husband had lupus; I had the impression that, once again, she was in a situation where she needed to be the breadwinner because her husband could not and this is what made it acceptable.
My mother is a writer, and she did write a weekly parenting column while I was growing up. But we didn’t rely on her income (I think it paid the princely sum of something like $25 a week), she was able to write her column on Thursday afternoons so she wasn’t trying to put in more than two or three hours of work a week, and her stay-at-home mom-ness contributed 100% to her ability to write the column.
I grew up feeling rebellious—like I was a bad Christian girl—because I knew I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted a career, as a writer, and I wanted it to be a successful career—with multiple books published and magazine articles and long essays and lots of short stories. For a long time, I thought I wouldn’t have children because I wasn’t sure how I would manage both.
Though I think there are more professional and non-professional women in the church who work these days than there were when I was growing up (it is hard, sometimes impossible, to make it on one income these days), I know some of those women feel judged. My sister-in-law, for example, mentioned a melt-down she had in church one day when a man pompously informed her that God expected her to stay at home with her children. I’ve known since I was a little girl that I was supposed to be a nurse, she told him. I feel called by God to be a nurse. And I am a very good mother. So just shut up.
But among all the women I know, I personally know exactly one other woman doing what I’m doing: work at home with limited childcare. (I have someone come in six hours a week to babysit. This lets me make business phone calls without interruption.) The limited childcare is due to two things: one, I don’t really want to put my baby in childcare; two, we can’t afford it anyway. The working is due to two things: one, I love my job(s) as writer, teacher, and editor/publicist; two, we need my income anyway.
I was talking with a friend of mine yesterday and she mentioned that the feminist revolution betrayed us. “It told us that we could have it all,” she said. “But what that really means is that you have to have a career, and you have to put your children in daycare. There are very few jobs that allow you to work and have your children with you.”
That is so true. I had the fortune to jump on the online teaching bandwagon early, which means I have more experience teaching online than just about any professor I ever meet. And it allowed me flexibility for my writing career long before my baby was born. Now that I’m a mother, my dean, thankfully, doesn’t care that I have a child at home while I work—as long as I am still an excellent teacher and do what I’m supposed to do in a timely fashion.
I am lucky, too, that my publisher welcomes both me and my baby when I go to publicity events and book signings. I had Nesta lying in a stroller or I was holding him throughout the American Library Association’s mid-winter conference. As I talked to librarians outside of Cinco Puntos Press’s booth, I gently rocked him to keep him happy. And guess what? Those librarians love babies. He is my best marketing tool, hands down. But I know I’m lucky. Not all publishers would be so welcoming or so understanding.
But it’s hard. I need to be putting in more hours than I currently am, especially writing. It is easy to be interrupted from grading papers or writing a press release. It is not so easy to revise my current novel when I’m interrupted so often.
Still, I would like a few models of women who manage successfully to work at home and keep their child out of daycare. I know you guys are out there. Please share your stories, your tips, your best practices! And especially for those mother writers out there—I need to hear how you’ve done it, and how you’ve balanced the appropriate time with your children and the appropriate time doing work, and how you’ve learned to write while being interrupted.