In case you missed it, I was recently tangled up in a lovely crazy quilt: an interview with fabulous librarian, writer, and blogger Edi Campbell. Check it out here to learn about why I played hooky, the best of Paris, and my favorite librarian. And check out the whole cast of the Summer 2012 Blog Blast Tour here at Chasing Ray.
I haven't read it yet, but I plan to get my hands on a copy of the June 25 Time magazine because the cover story is close to my heart: the plight of young illegal immigrants who contribute in countless ways to American experience.
The most powerful feature of this article? The first word in its title: "We Are Americans." Everything could change for young immigrants if others--especially those with legal status--embrace the fact that immigrants are part of the "we" that makes us a nation.
The Time feature comes right on the heels of President Obama's recent decision to provide a bit of security for young people without legal status. While it's a long way from the DREAM Act that would give the children of illegal immigrants the opportunity to access higher education and a path to legal status, Obama's announcement is important both as a step in the right direction and in the way it has energized the immigration debate. Perhaps we'll see the DREAM Act come back--and pass.
As I wrote back in 2010 when DREAM passed the House (only to fail in the Senate), the DREAM Act is about providing opportunities for children raised in the US—many of whom have no memories of their parents' home country. Without the DREAM Act, there is little incentive for undocumented immigrant kids to pursue higher education because the doors that a college degree would open are bolted shut by their illegal status.
This is a frustrating situation I saw repeatedly while teaching senior English in Southeast Houston. Some of my best students—straight-A kids who spoke perfect English and had been in US schools since pre-K—felt paralyzed by a secret: they didn't have papers. According to a recent College Board report, an estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate from US high schools every year. In Texas and nine other states, these kids can attend college and even receive some financial aid, but that is where the opportunity ends.
The DREAM Act does not reward so-called lawbreakers; it relieves the consequences of an immigration system that's broken and protects the children who have been caught up in that system.
Is it hopelessly optimistic to think that Obama's announcement and a story in Time might lead to the passage of the DREAM Act? Probably. But I've got my fingers crossed. And I know hundreds of young Americans who do, too.
Today is Juneteenth, the commemoration of the actual emancipation of slaves in Texas and other parts of the South on June 18 and 19 in 1865, which came considerably later than the official end to slavery (January 1, 1863). On June 18, Union General Gordon Granger and his troops came to Galveston, Texas, to enforce emancipation. According to legend, Granger stood on the balcony of one of Galveston's grand houses and read the following:
"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."
Interesting choice of words. The emancipated slaves, however limited the real change in their lives, did not "remain quietly" at home but had some considerable celebrations. Their world didn't shift much as most remained de facto slaves. But there was the promise of something better, even if it would take another hundred years to come.
The naming of the celebration Juneteenth is a bit of linguistic playfulness combining June and nineteenth.
I'm writing you from the depths of a hideous stomach virus, and I recommend each and every one of you to stay FAR, FAR away from me. What better way to keep your distance than by making a few stops on this year's Summer Book Blog Tour? You can see the whole schedule, with links and snippets posted each day, here at Chasing Ray. Here are a few hot stops from days one and two:
Kate Milford - Chasing Ray: "Staten Island is a perfect blank for lots of folks, except they know there's a ferry and they know there's an expressway."
Randa Abdel Fattah - Crazy QuiltEdi: "...A feeling of dread came over me as I worried that I'd be the last person to be chosen. And it clicked then that the desire to belong and not stand out as 'a loner' never quite leaves you, even after your school days are long gone."
Tim Lebbon - Bildungsroman: "Blimey...quite some time since I wrote that story. It's a tale about a guy losing his wife, and then trying to regain some hold on her by bringing back all the dolls she used to collect."
Nalo Hopkinson - The Happy Nappy Bookseller: "It's a dilemma for many -- not all --young black Canadians as they try to self-define. On this continent, blackness is seen as synonymous with black Americanness. If they don't look and act like what people associate with American blackness, they get seen as weird, inauthentic."
Timothy Decker - Chasing Ray: "I put hours into every illustration because I want to make drawings that are so interesting or intense that a child falls into them. I want them to have a magical adventure inside their mind, where my words or maybe just my illustrations spark all kinds of thoughts or questions. No one blows through my books as if the stories are mindless entertainment, they have to bring their brain and meet me half way."
YS Lee - The Ya Ya Yas: "What's not to love about a perfect storm of mega-pollution, heat wave, and the great public health panic of urban London?"
Tanita Davis - The Happy Nappy Bookseller: "A little bonus fact: I wrote Ysabel's backstory twice because originally she was in orchestra, and my editor said that there were too many YA novels with female characters who played cellos."
What a fabulous way to discover new authors and old friends (if you missed the mad love I have for Tanita Davis and her book Happy Families, go back to this post). And you can find me chatting with Edi Campbell of Crazy QuiltEdi on Friday, by which time I will be safely uncontagious, I hope!
After smooth flying and driving, we are finally "home" to the States--Texas for a bit before heading back to Indiana. Husband and I are nostalgic for Paris already, especially when we are eating out ("Look at the size of this table! Where are our cozy cafe spots?"). Liam still talks about one of his friends from his Paris nursery school, and I'm sure he is jonesing for those daily patisserie stops.
But we are home.
I remember, as a sixteen-year-old girl about to leave East Texas for the first time. I couldn't imagine a more beautiful place than my Piney Woods, and yet I knew I needed to go.
Now I've been blessed to have seen all kinds of beauty--mountains and East Coast forests, California's lush bits, beautiful vistas in Paris, farmland in Normandy, Belfast's skies. But there is something about the look of home, its smells. There is nothing beautiful about an oil derrick or pumpjack, but they are part of my childhood landscape. Living in this place with my own child returns me to my experiences as a little girl, and that's its own kind of beauty.
For now, I'm avoiding comparisons to Paris and just living our re-discovered home one gentle look at a time.
I am currently flying over the Atlantic (away from Paris and our 9-month adventure here), but in honor of the occasion, I have dredged up a poem I wrote in a writing workshop at Simon's Rock College when I was seventeen.
I thought I was so wise, but really I just flew a lot to and from school... and got melancholy on those flights.
So here it is... and if you ever wondered why all the poems I've shared are over a decade old, read these confessions about poetry.
"See you" when I'm back in the States.
The trembling handle, humming floor,
A bead of condensation licking down
Cupped hands of the vacant toilet bowl;
Each row’s portal of blue
Bent inward by the sight
Of the tangled hair of clouds;
Slow spreading of stale
Dinner smells through the cabin
Aisles in hot, sour gusts;
Glimpse of tight breasts
Fondled by the rough hand
Of a wool sweater, seen between
The crooked backs of seats;
The pressure of a gray handkerchief
Knotted around dirty strands of hair,
This plane, an old woman made small
By the wide arms of air, or
A moth flapping over an ash heap.
When you fly, you forget your name,
Become some nocturnal creature
Hunched over the stiff fabric
Of 16-A or 34-C. There’s the steam
That rises from glistening foreheads,
Damp palms, bodies lined up carefully
and numbered. Even the finger-stripped
Magazines meet you unprepared,
Cramped in your seat, bleary,
Unsure of the world. For here,
Pressed in against some lambskin
Coat, the fleece balled up
Like cotton weeping on its stalk,
You are neither where you are going
Nor where you came from. You are
16,000 feet above your city limits, your dry-
mouthed hopes, your three kids,
Your electric razor. Heart,
What is that? No answer, just a vision
Of marked exits and, nearby, the low
Rattle of breath.
In the airport, you blink.
You blink. You blink. The swollen
Eyes of high lamps blaze down, a dozen
Scornful suns. Something heavy
Gripped in your hand and a lingering
Itch on one arm remembers the dry
Scratch of the puckered seat. Water-
Spotted leather shoes two steps ahead
Tap out a path through a long corridor,
One hundred four
Other pairs of feet scuffing, wheels
Clack-clacking over low seams
Of tiles. You are glassed into this passage;
Windows stretch thin between frames,
Meeting night with only half an inch of skin.
Below, planes drag their burdensome bodies
Across pavement. Blue, red, orange
Lights scan, flicker, pulse, quarreling
In the bustle, illuminating
The oily memories of palms, fingertips,
Which tomorrow will be wiped clean.
And in the glass, a face skims, reflected.
Yes, rolled pieces of night, eyes
Tugged on by the darkness,
Also the crook of an ear, slash for a nose
Lips uncertain of the hour.
And the shadowy thing of skin,
This face . . . whose?
And . . . can you claim it as yours?
But wait, no fear! There, a voice,
Your name, up ahead the familiar glow
Of the familial grin — recognition!
Your relief now accompanied by the shallow
Breaths usually reserved for moments
After brief love-making or mild exercise.
I’m no publicity pro, but I recently set up my own blog tour to launch The Knife and the Butterfly, and I learned a few things along the way. So while there are services that will set up a blog tour for you (for a fee!), I’m here to tell you why you might want to do it yourself and how to make it a success.
Even if you plan to make the rounds of launch parties, signings, and school visits, there are good reasons to set up your own blog tour as well. It’s a great opportunity to find real partners and colleagues online. Even friendships! Want to take the plunge? Here's what you need to know...
Step 1: Contact bloggers.
If this is not your first book, you’ve probably done online book promo before, and you’re going to have certain bloggers in mind already. Use those contacts! You should also make new connections.
Whether you’re building on past online appearances or starting from scratch, take time to do your research. Find blogs you like--you should be reading these--and pay attention to who they link to. You can also find databases that organize blogs by topic, or try searching with google reader.
Once you have a list of blogs you'd like to work with, email each blogger personally to let him or her know about the blog tour. When you write, show that you are familiar with their site by including at least a quick reference to their actual content and why a post about you would be of interest to their readers. In your email, invite the blogger to join and choose a date, indicate basic time frames (“I will get posts to you X days in advance of your tour date”), and suggest possible post ideas (more on that in a sec).
When choosing who to reach out to, you’ll want to pay attention to frequency of posts, reader activity (commenting), and—most importantly—professionalism and quality of posts. For example, if typos drive you crazy, don’t set yourself up with a blogger who has a huge following but is very casual about grammar. You are an author; how they set up your post ultimately reflects on you.
Step 2: Organize yourself.
Okay, you’ve sent a bunch of thoughtful emails out, and responses are starting to coming back. How do you schedule your tour? How do you keep track of what posts go where, of who you’ve emailed, of what you’ve already said?
Friends, Scrivener was (for me) the answer to every possible want I could have in organizing this tour. Especially for authors already moderately familiar with Scrivener, this is the way to go. In an upcoming post, I’ll share some lessons I learned about logistics and give you a peek at the Scrivener file I used to keep myself organized.
(Psst! Scrivener is, hands down, the best tool for a time-elapse project like a blog tour. It lets you keep your posts organized and keep track of dates and details WITHOUT having to open a zillion different Word files. I swear, nobody is paying me to say this.)
Anyway, whatever tool you use, you need some way to keep track of:
(1) what each post is supposed to be (any special guidelines, etc.)
(2) the email of the person you should send it to (usually the blog owner)
(3) what blog it will be posted on (helps you to create a list of links)
(4) when the post goes live
(5) if you’ve done it yet or not
Step 3: Prep your posts.
We’ll take for granted that your book is amazing. How will the posts on your blog tour give readers reasons to want that book NOW?
Start by making sure you write quality posts. You can write a week or even a month’s worth of interesting, varied content about your book, but you can’t do it at the last minute. How long your tour is will also depend a bit on how much you enjoy doing this kind of writing. If it feels like a chore, keep the tour short and do a good job on a few posts.
After the years of labor it takes to bring a book into being, you may feel you’ve said all you want to say, but with a little effort, you can surprise yourself with insights when you start digging up content for the blog tour.
Here are some categories of posts you might consider (click on links for examples):
(5) Top 10 list
(9) explore a theme
(10) “Dear Teen Me” style letter (for YA authors)
(11) Two Truths and a Lie
(14) define your audience
(16) video post (I've never been brave enough, but here's a fun one with author Julia Karr)
You should also invite bloggers to suggest topics and/or frameworks for your guest post since they know their audiences best. They can often offer a new idea, too, especially if they’ve read your book.
Step 4: Know what to send with every post.
Author bio. Keep it brief and resist the urge to be too cute. I include this in my email in case the blogger wants to post it.
Synopsis and excerpts. Other staples of your guest posts are going to be a good (brief) description of your novel and—in my opinion—at least a small excerpt. For me, that’s important in terms of helping potential readers get a sense of the novel itself—not just my blogging persona. I chose different excerpts for each post, which often helped me to uncover new angles.
Images. Include core images—book cover, author photo, etc.—already attached. You can add additional photos or images relevant to each post to personalize it and add interest.
Book-buying and media links. At the end of each post, you want to let readers know how to find you and your books, so provide links to twitter, your own blog, and book-buying outlets. (You’d be amazed by how many authors don’t make it easy to purchase their books!) Give bloggers the option of editing this, of course, based on how much promo they feel comfortable with. Less is sometimes more.
Step 5: Deliver the goods.
Send your blogger contact your post at least a week in advance along with any images that go with it.
To make your life easier, you might want to save a template email that has your author bio included as well as a standard set of pictures (blog tour banner, author photo, book cover image, etc.) that you add to or take away from depending on the specifics of the post. You can also let bloggers know that they can choose to use whichever images they like.
I also found that it was very helpful to ask bloggers to send me a link to the post when it went live. As soon as I got that email, I was able to go to the blog tour page on my own website and put the permalink in for that stop on the tour.
Step 6: Follow up.
Be sure to visit the blogs that host you and your tour and respond to any comments that readers leave. Also, send the blogger a thank-you message; they’ve put work into making your stop a success.
Whew! I hope this helps others who want to make a blog tour part of their book launch. If you have follow-up questions, share them in the comments. I'm always happy to share from my experiences; I've been blessed to have LOTS of mentors guide me down the paths of authordom. Thank goodness for trailblazers!
You know about the segregation of black school children in the Jim Crow era, but do you know how it affected the Mexican American community?
For my third novel, I have done a lot of research about the experiences of Mexican Americans in schools in the 1930s. In reading about the logistics of segregating Mexican-American students in Texas, what stunned me most was that most kids were essential forced out of school by sixth grade. Enormously overcrowded classrooms in the "Mexican" schools made learning difficult, putting the students further behind their white peers with each year.
On top of that, the school districts in Texas often divided each elementary grade into two years (for example, "lower first," "upper first") in "Mexican" schools. The result was that--by middle school--Hispanic students were often told they were "too old" for the grade they should have been able to join in the (white) middle school.
In Houston in the 30s, only a handful of Mexican-Americans (usually lighter skinned) graduated from high school at all despite a significant Hispanic population in the area. They faced discrimination in white schools, and there was no "Mexican" public high school as an option.
I also discovered that, unlike African-Americans, whose teachers--also African-American--were usually committed to helping students use education to combat their circumstances, Mexican-American children were almost invariably taught by white teachers, some of whom found theirs an "undesirable" placement and were quick to underestimate the abilities of their students.
None of this is at the center of novel #3, but an unfavorable educational situation in San Antonio acts as one of the catalysts for a key relocation. Some of these details will, I hope, find their place in the plot, though. Because the three-fold school segregation in Texas--and its powerful, negative legacy for our communities--needs to be acknowledged.