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Books Are Not Babies and Will You Have a Party for Me?

I cringe at the comparison of books to babies.

I am not pushing a book out. No one is cutting a book out. Ebook, paperback, hardcover, donn’t matter. Not coming out my body.

I do not expect my books to call me even after they have existed for 18 years or more.

If I put a book on the roof of the car and forget it there and drive away, I won’t really care.

I don’t need to buy my books a passport or hold their hair back while they barf when they have the flu.

Unless I get a world record size paper cut, I do not expect my books to leave scars on my skin.

Still.

Let me tell ya something.

When I realized I would not be anywhere near my book on the day it officially publishes, I had a one second flash, one second, of the moments after I gave birth to twins. I had the not-awesome experience of birthing one child vaginally (with no pain medication) and one child via c-section (with all the pain medication) because of an emergency.

I glanced at the first baby as I was getting a spinal tap and then she was gone. I glanced at the second baby while I was getting sewn up and then he was gone. And then my husband was gone. I had just pushed out a baby and the docs chopped out a baby, doubling the size of my family in the span of 42 minutes and I was all by myself. I didn’t even know where they were. (Later I found out, one was in the NICU with my husband and one was in a crib in the nursery).

So, as annoying and utterly insufficient as the books to babies comparison is, I confess I thought of it as my book’s publication date looms.

There are loads of copies of the book out in the world. People are reading it. People will be reading it as of October 1.

And I HAVE NOT EVEN SEEN IT.

I haven’t touched it.

I haven’t cracked that lovely hardcover spine.

I haven’t held it up and danced around the room.

I haven’t taken any photographs with it.

I haven’t cut into a box of books and laugh-cried while my family rolled their eyes.

And yet you, if you’ve ordered it, will have it in your hands! I’m so jealous.

You know how people say publishing a book doesn’t change your life? Well for me, it literally will not change my life. I will go for a run, go into the office at school, hang out with my husband, miss my kids, and wonder what you’re thinking as you crack open that spine and start to read.

I have a favor to ask.

I will have a launch party (and it will be super fun and in Minnesota and please come if you live nearby, I’ll send all the details later and I’ll have another in Djibouti and if you live nearby please come) and I will get my hands on a book. Eventually. But not yet.

 

Will you launch for me?

Will you party for me?

Will you take a photo with the book for me? And post it in all the places so we can celebrate together?

Will you put a review up on Amazon or Goodreads for me?

I need you guys to celebrate pub day for me.

That would be super duper amazing.

If you’re the hashtagging type, use #strongerthandeath

Headshots. Schmeadshots.

I love having my photo taken.

False.

I am all about makeup and cute clothes.

False.

It is super easy to smile and look natural while also looking cute and smart and interesting and trying not to look like the dorky, nerdy, clueless person I am.

False.

Alas.

I had new headshots taken.

I wanted a picture that makes someone think, “Oh, hey! I bet that lady wrote a great book. I would really like to read that book. I would really like to sit down with her over coffee and talk about the things she writes. She looks like someone I can trust, someone welcoming.” I kind of also wanted to look like someone who vacillates between wild hope and desperate cynicism. Not sure that came across but that’s where I sit, swinging between those two extremes and wishing that I could just settle into the happy middle. That’s what, I think, you’ll find in a lot of what I write.

The old pics were almost seven years old. In those seven years, schtuff happened. Schtuff that continued to develop both the hope and the cynicism.

I got cancer. Took it out. It came back. I graduated two out of three of my children. They haven’t come back (yet). I got more wrinkles, lost a lot of hair, developed new scars. Started to get more of those weird bumps that just pop out with age and also some of those funny red dots. What are they anyway?

Jessica Lee Gardner took the pics. We took them at Villa Camille, the cutest new cafe in Djibouti. I didn’t sweat through my shirt until we were nearly done. We did have to stop a few times to wipe the sweat that was dripping, dripping I tell you!, off my face from the exertion of sitting still and moving my face muscles.

Ah, the natural Djibouti glow.

It is funny, the things you know and notice about your own face that probably no one else even thinks about. I have to be careful of curls boinging out at strange angles so as to avoid looking like I have horns. I can see my scar in some of the pictures, depending on how my head is tilted or if I swallowed right when she snapped. I see the veins and lines and they all tell the story of me. Jessica said she didn’t notice any of these things and never even thought about the scar. So. We are all vain and we should all knock it off because no one else cares.

Here are a couple, you might see a variety of them in all the places we writers put our faces.

And if you are in Djibouti and want some pictures taken, Jessica is amazing. Check her out here.

 

 

By |August 14th, 2019|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , |Comments Off on Headshots. Schmeadshots.

Pirates! Poverty! War! FGM! On Manipulating Headlines to Capture a Reader

How the heck do writers get people to care about other parts of the world?

Editors often tell me (in my many rejection letters) that North Americans don’t care about the Horn of Africa.

Unless I can come up with a salacious or titillating angle (both intriguing words), why would a reader in, say, Minnesota, care about Djiboutian girls making bead jewelry? Maybe they like working their hands to create beautiful things. Maybe they are serving their families by earning extra income, maybe they are developing math, business, negotiation, marketing, and general work ethic skills, maybe they are forming a beautiful community.

But.

Who cares?

Clearly, I do. And clearly, I hope you do. But writing about community, creativity, and beauty isn’t click-bait the way other things are.

(By the way, you can see the handiwork of these young women on Facebook and Instagram and you can even purchase it as of April 2 here)

Stories of hope and joy out of a far away region and culture, struggle to capture the attention of a general reader.

This is why Syrians are crying out for people to care but few respond. It is why many have not even heard of the war in Yemen, what has recently been called the worst humanitarian crisis in 50 years, even with Syria in the picture.

How do writers up the readership on stories from this part of the world which I find inherently fascinating and which I love, but about which few outsiders care?

Here’s what I came up with (while on a run with a friend who also cares about this part of the world):

It has to be about FGM. Female Genital Mutilation. Or pirates, poverty, war.

So here are some possible headlines, to get clicks, readers, and attention. Whether or not they actually represent reality is highly debatable.

For a story about Dreamer and Co, the bead business:

Girls Saved from Pirate Marriages Turn Trash to Treasure

(granted, they were never at risk of getting married to pirates, but I suppose its possible, in the sense of all things are possible)

For a story about the most amazing place I visited in Hargeisa, Somaliland during Marathon week, a place that almost made me cry:

They Don’t Have Clitorises but They Have a Library!

(because who wants to read about a library in Somalia, even if it is the most inspiring place in the entire city)

For a story about the incredible strides Somali women are making in medicine:

Raped in the Middle of the Day, Now a Medical Student

(as if sexual assault has anything to do with her capability as a student or doctor)

For a story about the running club in Djibouti, Girls Run 2:

With No Bras, Underwear, Socks, or Shoes, Girls Still Run

(as if the most important thing about them is what they lack, rather than what they have to offer)

Of course FGM, piracy, poverty, rape, war…all these things are significant issues for the region, for the world. I’m not saying they don’t matter or shouldn’t be written about. I write about them, I talk about them with friends. And there very well could be a place in an article about the first class of medical students to graduate to write about assault and trauma. But using those kinds of troubling details as the main point or a kind of requirement for getting through the editorial doors, skews stories and perpetuates the ‘exotic’ otherness of people, rather than our shared humanity.

We are all broken, broken in unique ways. We can also all celebrate unique stories of healing and beauty, while lamenting the brokenness, without dehumanizing each other.

Maybe it is wishful thinking, to imagine people care about those far away and outside our own borders. There is both too much brokenness and too much beauty to expect anyone to hold it all. I can’t summon the emotional energy to care about all the joys and problems of the world. But at the same time, there are billions of us. Surely there is room for all the stories, surely we can diversify a little bit more, stretch our minds past presidents, past preconceived ideas, past our comfort zones.

Surely we can tell all the stories, in all their dark and beautiful complexity, without insisting on twisting them.

(and no, I will not be using any of those headlines. Preempting the fail of sarcasm online here)

 

New Expats, Old Expats, Hold On to What You Believe

Quick link: Don’t Forget the Things You Know Are True

In case you missed it, A Life Overseas published my post this week about some of the things we know are true that are deeply challenged in the first year abroad. And in every year after that.

All the training, preparing, packing, and planning has left you utterly exhausted, unprepared for reality, insufficiently packed, and carrying plans that will be chucked out the window upon arrival. Those who sent you and those you received you have done their best, but they haven’t been perfect or complete, and I want to remind you of some important things.

There are some things you know to be true. These things will be challenged to their very deepest core in your first few months abroad. You’ll forget them. You’ll call people liars (even if just in your head) when they remind you of them. You’ll wonder how you ever could have been foolish enough to believe them. That’s part of the process. That does not change the fact that these things are things you know. They are true. They have not changed, even while life is only wild, chaotic, and stressful.

Read the rest of Don’t Forget the Things You Know Are True here.

The Mother Writer

Quick link: Blood, Sweat, and Words

I had a piece published in The Sunlight Press this week. I was traveling (college tours, yipes!) and am finally able to share it with you now. It is about my first published essay, a bloody nose, and being a mother trying to write.

My first published article arrived in my PO box in Djibouti three months after being printed. Rats had gnawed the corners of the box to get at Easter chocolates inside but the magazine, Get Born, was untouched.

The cover photo pictured a Djiboutian mother and baby standing in the downtown market in the pouring rain. I was in awe. My first story and it earned the cover photo. And, a photo of rain in Djibouti. Djibouti is a small, desert country in the Horn of Africa and at the time, it was in the middle of a drought. I wasn’t sure if my article or the rain was the greater miracle.

I stood in the post office’s open doorway to catch small wafts of steamy breezes and tucked the box and the rest of the goodies my mom had mailed between my elbow and my side. I held the magazine between my fingertips so I wouldn’t leave sweaty palm stains on the pages. I stared at it for a few seconds, then climbed into the car and drove home.

To read the rest, click here Blood, Sweat, and Words