3 Ways to Support Marginalized Authors

Marketing & Promotion

ahmed-zayan-684478-unsplashIt’s been absolutely incredible to see more and more books by marginalized authors being published. But it’s still those creators who are shouldering a huge amount of the promo they need to sell copies and, you know, make money.

I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately and about how marginalized creators are at such a disadvantage from the get-go because generational wealth hasn’t afforded us the privilege of being able to take many financial risks, like quitting our day jobs to write full-time or funnel any of the money from that day-job into marketing our art.

It’s obvious that when it comes to generational wealth, who has it and who doesn’t reinforces so many of the systems of oppression operating in this country. This is evidenced by the recent “Varsity Blues” scandal in which the rich and powerful bribed colleges to let in their mediocre children, spots that could have gone to qualified students from marginalized communities.

Not only are most marginalized creators facing many obstacles to becoming wealthy but we also are not allowed to be mediocre. It’s a lot of pressure, which is why it’s so incredibly important that we support each other in our efforts, not just to make the kind of art we want or to find a way to support ourselves financially with that art, but also towards the goal of building generational wealth that will benefit our families and communities.

Bottom-line: I want every marginalized artist I know to be rich. I want them to create the kind of wealth that allows them to become a force for good in the world.

So I’ve been thinking of ways I can use my resources and platform to better support marginalized authors and I’ve settled on a few things that are within my power to contribute. Maybe some of these will inspire you to increase your support of a marginalized creator you love.

1. Tell people they exist and how much you love them

I created a new newsletter feature called “Latinx Book Love” where I’ll be sharing books by Latinx authors I love. I’ll also be posting about them here on the blog. These aren’t traditional reviews because there is no critiquing going on. Instead, these are reactions where I talk about how the book made me feel, which themes resonated with me most and why.

My newsletter has almost 700 subscribers and this blog has over 1,000. They’re not huge numbers but if even one person chooses to buy a copy of one of these books from reading about it on my blog or in my newsletter then I’d call that a success.

How can you do something similar?

I know this one seems obvious but I also know a lot of readers who don’t write reviews. If you’re at all intimidated by posting your thoughts on an online retailer, find your own online space to share the books you love. AND remember: a review does not have to be time-consuming or 1,000 words long.

Like I said, my posts will be more like reactions to what I loved. A quick reflection on how a book made you feel is plenty to post as a review on Goodreads or Amazon and those reviews have a huge impact on a book’s visibility. As soon as you finish a book by a marginalized author, open up notes on your phone or grab a sticky note and jot down a few thoughts before you forget. Then post them to Goodreads, Amazon, or another online retailer whenever you can. Don’t forget text the reaction to a friend who you think would also love the book or share your reaction on social media.

2. Make your neighborhood libraries more inclusive

I mostly read library books because I happen to have a library right down the hall. Our ESL team has a great relationship with our librarian and at certain times of the year she asks for diverse books recs and/or linguistically accessible books (what we’d call low-level high-interest) that our ESL students might enjoy. I see this as an awesome opportunity to make our library’s selection more inclusive for all. The more diverse books that are in the library, the more likely it is that students will pick them up, fall in love with them, and want to read more by that author.

How can you replicate this at your own library? It’s super easy! I worked in libraries for several years before becoming a teacher so I know for a fact that the librarian at your local branch is a superhero and would definitely love to hear what you’d like to see more of. Especially if you check out books often, staff will really take your recs to heart. Even if you’re new to the library it’s really important that a library’s selection reflects the values of that community. So if you don’t see a book by a certain marginalized author on the shelves, give the title to the librarian who will either request it through an inter-library loan (which gets the books on their radar) or add it to their next order.

3. Make your neighborhood classrooms and communities more inclusive

Personally, it’s better for my budget to use the library at the school where I work to get most of my books. BUT because money is power I also want to make sure the things I’m doing are leading to actual sales for those marginalized authors. One of the ways I do this is by allotting a certain amount of our ESL department money to stocking our classroom libraries with diverse books. I always buy two copies of everything so reading is more social and kids can talk about what they’re reading with a friend who’s also reading the same book. This also helps when I want to do lit circles led by student choice because it ensures every book in my classroom library is an option for discussion.

Check out my lit circle haul from last year focused on diverse nonfiction texts:

Left to right *marginalized authors only: 1) Diary of a Tokyo Teen by Christine Mari Inzer 2) The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind byWilliam Kamkwamba 3) I Am Malala byMalala Yousafzai 4) Americanized by Sara Saedi 5) In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero 6) I Will Always Write Back by Martin Ganda &Caitlin Alifirenka
And here’s my BOY haul focused on diverse anthologies & multi-genre texts:

Left to right: 1) Kim’s Convenience by Ins Choi 2) American Like Me *edited by America Ferrera 3) Fresh Ink *edited by Lamar Giles 4) Our Stories, Our Voices 5) We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices *edited by Wade Hudson 6) Flying Lessons & Other Stories *edited by Ellen Oh
And the summer reading books I’ll be giving away to students at EOY:

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TOP-Left to right: 1) Darrius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram 2) American Road Trip by Patrick Flores-Scott 3) Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed 4) To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
BOTTOM-Left to right: 5) Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert 6) We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia 7) The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

As we approach our spring deadline for spending our budget money, I usually use it to purchase even more books. This year I bought the above summer reading books for my 9th & 10th graders and plan to do a gallery walk in May so students can choose one before summer break. I was very careful to find books containing representation that matches the diversity in my classroom and purchased books by and featuring marginalized people across different racial, religious, and cultural backgrounds.

How can you replicate this if you’re not a teacher and don’t have free money specifically allotted to buying diverse/inclusive teaching/reading materials?

You could start a book club with friends or coworkers for the purpose of reading books by marginalized authors. Whether the people in your group choose to buy the book themselves or request it at their local library the author is still making money. And who knows? Maybe someone (or multiple people) in your book club will fall in love with that author’s work and buy their entire backlist. Personally, when I discover a book that ends up blowing me away and becoming an absolute favorite I buy a personal copy to someday shelve in my *dream* home library.

If you have kids, you could also encourage them to start a book club like this with their friends.

If you’ve got the money to spend you can also seek out organizations that provide books to students in low-income schools. Or check out Donor’s Choose and search specifically for literacy projects focused on diverse books. Each year I make a few donations around Christmas time to teachers in my hometown who are building diverse classroom libraries or who need class sets of diverse books. If you can’t afford to fund one of these projects, share it on social media to help get the word out. You could even stop by a school in your neighborhood and ask if they need diverse book donations.

Again, if you don’t personally have the funds for this, organize a book drive and collect donations.

I think the most important thing to consider if you want to support marginalized creators is how can you leverage your own privilege and community to make a difference. We all have different financial situations and different levels of influence. If you can’t afford to spend your own money on these books, that’s okay. Find other ways to shine a light on them by reviewing them, shouting about them online, or recommending them to people and institutions that do have the funds to purchase them.

The methods listed above are just some of the ways I’m using my available time, resources, and platform to bring attention to diverse books. But as my financial situation and zone of influence changes, hopefully this list will change and I’ll be able to do things that make an even greater financial impact on the lives of these authors.

Because the more money these authors make, the more likely it is they’ll be able to build a sustainable career, and the more marginalized creators with successful track records, the more likely it is that publishers will be willing to invest in the work of other marginalized creators. A rising tide lifts all boats so let’s help each other rise and reach our goals while also getting these books into the hands of people who really need them.

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All or Nothing

Motivation & Inspiration, Writing Process

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When I think about perfectionism and creative work, the first thing that comes to mind is writer’s block. For most of us, it’s caused by this desire to avoid failure at all costs, which in turn makes it impossible to even get the words on the page. Perfectionism is never being able to finish a project. It’s endless tweaking and a sense of never being satisfied.

For the longest time, I thought that I had beaten back my own perfectionism because I knew how to finish. But perfectionism doesn’t just dictate the final product. It also dictates every step to getting there.

This week I read an article in a financial newsletter that talked about something called “0-100 thinking.” It refers to a type of perfectionism that causes people to have an all or nothing mentality when it comes to their goals. For example, if I set a goal of writing every morning before work but one morning I wake up late and only have twenty minutes to write instead of the hour I’d originally planned for, and this derails me psychologically to the point that I just give up on the endeavor altogether, then I am a 0-100 perfectionist.

Y’all, I am a 0-100 perfectionist and I didn’t realize it until now.

In my twenty-seven years, I’ve experience so many things that have literally beaten into me how unpredictable life is, how little we actually have control over. Teaching has forced me to be flexible, my long-term relationship with my partner has shown me the importance of being able to grow and change. Did I often seek out opportunities to control as many aspects of my life as I could? Absolutely. But did it derail me when things didn’t go exactly as planned? I didn’t think so.

I thought that I had learned how to go with the flow. How to fall on faith. How to take things as they come.

But in my work, I am still struggling with this beast called perfectionism that I thought I had slain long ago.

That example I mentioned earlier? That happened to me Thursday morning.

See, I was on a high last week from DVPit and all of the agents who had requested my full manuscript. It lit a fire under me to make even more progress on the rough draft of the companion novel. Waking up at 5AM to write is not new for me. I often do it at the tail end of projects or when I’m trying to build up momentum. So I decided I would work that extra writing time back into my routine, starting on Monday.

Monday through Wednesday things went really well. I woke up early, got ready, ate breakfast, and had between 45 minutes and an hour to write before heading to work. Then Thursday came around and I accidentally woke up at 4 instead of 5. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I lay there, exhausted.

That exhaustion followed me out of bed, slowing me down every step of my morning routine. My writing time dwindled down to thirty minutes. I was so discouraged I couldn’t even begin.

Then Friday morning I checked my email (which I really shouldn’t have done before getting my writing in) and there was this article all about the 0-100 mindset. I thought about how I’d totally self-sabotaged Thursday morning and then I thought about all of the other times I’ve done the exact same thing.

This 0-100 mindset has robbed me of so much progress. Of so much growth. The very things that may have fortified my confidence and given me the strength to push through my own perfectionism. The perfectionism I didn’t even think was still a problem for me.

But it is a problem. A BIG problem.

Luckily, it’s a problem I actually know how to fix. Not overnight and not all at once. That 0-100 mindset is poison even when we think it’s helping us find solutions. Instead, this is a problem I can only fix twenty minutes, ten minutes, five minutes at a time.

Friday I had exactly twenty minutes to write before work. But instead of saying, screw it, that’s not enough time, I opened up the Word document and dove in. For twenty minutes. I revised four pages of the manuscript. Four pages. That doesn’t sound like a lot but it’s four more pages than I’d done the day before and it’s four pages closer to the end.

That is what’s most important. The End.

If I can’t get there, I can’t do this professionally. But I know I can get there. I have gotten to the end eight times before with eight different novels. The question I have to ask myself now is how. Am I going to get there in weekend binges that may get wiped out by other plans? Am I going to get there by only writing when conditions are absolutely perfect? Or am I going to get there using any means necessary and with whatever time I can find or steal, whether that’s an hour or five minutes?

You can create as many versions of the perfect routine as you want. But there is no such thing. Life will always get in the way. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still do the work. Just like we have to embrace when a story takes an unexpected turn, resulting in something we never saw coming, we must also embrace a “writing routine” that is less routine than we’d hoped.

It’s okay to carve out time to write, to set boundaries, to have goals. But every time we let disappointment drive us off the path, we get farther and farther from our original destination. Whether you have all the time in the world to write or almost none, your identity as a writer does not change, and you can still make meaningful progress towards the things that matter. Telling the stories you long to tell.

DVPit: An Emotional Journey

Motivation & Inspiration
1. Wait, there’s a Twitter Pitch contest just for marginalized creators?
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2. Someone actually thinks we’re important enough to be given a spotlight, to take up space within this community, to create a loving vibrant community of our own?
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3. Who is Beth? Beth is an angel. Beth is a warrior. Beth will save us all.
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4. Oooh look at all these success stories! I will now print photos of the legendary DVPit squad and put them up around my house so I can absorb their big book energy.
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5. And pictures of their book covers, which I will roll around in to absorb their word magic.
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6. Now my expectations are sky high. I will win DVPit (even though there is no winning/losing because we’re all in this together) and I will get an agent and sell my book and make that sweet white-man-money that will definitely be illegal soon.
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7. Okay, six pitches…six pitches…I can definitely distill my 86,000 word novel into a series of 280-character tweets that show the characters, the world, and the emotional stakes. Es muy fácil.
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8. No es fácil.
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9. Okay, WWTDSD? What Would The DVPit Squad Do? Oh, look there’s a video where Claribel explains exactly what she would do. And one from Kat Cho. And articles from Kayla Whaley, and Jalissa Corrie, and this Resources page is BOMB!
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10. Crisis averted. I got this. Now let’s draft these bitches. I mean pitches.
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11. These are shit.
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12. Maybe I should meditate and the perfect pitch will just come to me. That’s how visualization works, right?
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13. Oh shit, I fell asleep.
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14. That’s okay, everything looks better in the morning ligh–oh no! What are these? Vomit. Word vomit. All over my good pajamas.
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15. No worries. Writing is re-writing. Writing is re-writing.
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16. Okay, these aren’t bad.
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17. And look, there’s so many awesome publishing people offering to critique pitches for free. All I have to do is slide into their DMs. No big deal. Just talk to a total stranger. I can do that. I can talk to strangers. I kan tok to stran ears.

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18. I can’t talk to strangers.

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19. Okay, so this is just gonna be a hail mary, then. No one has seen these pitches but me, which means they could be terrible. I could be about to embarrass myself in front of the entire publishing community. Immediately made an outcast. Put to death.

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20. The night before DVPit. Better get some good sleep. Big day tomorrow. Like the biggest day. The most important day of your life is tomorrow why are you sleeping you must stay awake and agonize over this great unknown until it consumes you whole and then picks its teeth with your shoe laces. You’re not wearing shoes? Who goes to bed without shoes? What are you going to do if the zombie apocalypse comes or nuclear war breaks out?

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21. It’s 5 AM. 3 more hours until DVPit.

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22. Wait a minute. DVPit starts on east coast time. NOW I ONLY HAVE TWO MORE HOURS TO BECOME THE BEST WRITER I’VE EVER BEEN AND THE MOST PERFECT VERSION OF MYSELF.

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23. Let me just re-read my pitches.

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24. And re-read them again.

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25. And re-read them eight hundred times until the letters are melting off the page and I’m late for my day job that actually pays my bills. Oh shit, I forgot to pay the electric bill. $145? How can something invisible be $145? I must immediately search every door and window seal for cracks.

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26. Okay, time to open Twitter. Annnnd the party has already started without me. Everyone’s having so much fun. So much more fun than before I got here. I’ll just…leave.

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27. No. I’m here on a mission. I. CAN. DO. THIS.

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28. What should I post first? This pitch has a nice rhythm to it but this one really highlights the emotional stakes. But this other one is really funny and shows off my personality. Forget it. Just eeny-meeny-miney-moe this shit.

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29. Copy. Paste. Po–

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30. Breathe. Do it for Beth. Do it for Beth.

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31. POST.

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32. *Refresh* the DVPit hashtag. *Refresh* again. Where the hell is it?

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33. *Scrolls down* Oh, it was just buried under these other fifty tweets that were posted in the same millisecond as mine. It’ll totally be easy to find.

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34. Okay, I’ve got another hour until I can post another pitch that hopefully doesn’t suck as much as the first one and *oh* what’s this? A notification? It’s been thirty minutes and I thought my tweet had been swallowed into the bowels of Twitter. I thought that’s where it belonged. But *oh* another notification. Two notifications. Three notifications. Four. Five. Whaaaaat?

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35. I should check out the top DVPit tweets because mine is absolutely blowing up and you know I really never expected this. I can’t believe my idea is resonating with people so much. I guess I just have this special gift and, you know, come to think of it, I’ve always known I was extraordinary but sometimes it just takes opportunities like these to really see how–

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36. Oh. Someone else has like…177 likes.

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37. That’s cool.

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38. I hate myself.

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39. Four more notifications.

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40. I love myself.

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41. I finally stop refreshing my notifications and explore the DVPit feed.

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42. All my friends are here! (Well, all of the people I wish were my friends)

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43. Everyone is beautiful and magical and so insanely talented. We are what is right with the world. We are who will save it from total ruin.

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44. I breathe a sigh of relief. I am here and no one told me to leave, that I didn’t belong here. Or that I could come in but I’d have to close the door behind me so no one else could join us. Because one was enough.

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45. I breathe another sigh of relief. I am here and I feel like we have staked some kind of claim to this proverbial place that once had walls we could only peer through.

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46. It’s 8:00PM eastern time. My adrenal system is a total shit show. I am scared and I am happy. I am worried and I am excited. I am full of doubt and I am full of hope.

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When was the Last Time You Felt Like a Failure?

Mental Health

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I never answer the door. I never answer the phone. Why? Because I never know what to expect on the other end. I don’t like surprises. Surprises are for people with a false sense of security because they have never suffered a real tragedy their entire lives.

But, unfortunately for me, my front door has an oval glass center, which allows anyone on my front porch to see directly inside and to the exact spot where I am usually sitting on the couch watching Bravo. If I’m caught in this sacred spot when the doorbell rings, I really have no choice but to get up and answer. I don’t want to be rude, after all.

Six months ago the doorbell rang. An elderly man and I made eye contact through the glass. I opened the door.

It turned out he’d already been by and this was his second attempt because our address had been randomly selected to participate in the U.S. census survey. Now, normally I would decline to participate in things like this because I’m a millennial and do not like to be uncomfortable or inconvenienced and I sure as heck don’t like having strangers in my home. But I had also spent that morning block-walking for Beto O’Rourke’s senate campaign and the sting of having doors slammed in my face was still fresh.

So I let him inside.

He asked some preliminary questions to see whether I or my boyfriend would be chosen for the survey. It was me, of course.

At first, the questions were pretty generic, but the surveyor said they would adjust based on my answers. Boy did they. Once we got into the section on medical care the questions got really real, really fast.

In the last six months have you forgone medical care due to cost? Yes.

In the last six months have you forgone mental health care due to cost? Yes.

In the last six months have you needed to see a therapist but did not go due to cost? Yes.

On a scale of all the time, most of the time, some of the time, or never, how often do you feel anxious? Most of the time.

When was the last time you felt like a failure?

Yes, that was an actual census question generated by my previous responses. I looked across the table at my boyfriend. His eyes crinkled. He wanted to laugh. So did I. But I also wanted to cry.

See, just that week I had been in the midst of an existential crisis. I felt uncertain about my future, about my purpose, about my goals and dreams and whether or not all of my hard work would ever amount to anything. I was feeling lost. I was feeling scared. I looked at my boyfriend and said, “I feel like a failure.”

We commiserated about approaching thirty while still feeling so clueless about life. So clueless about everything. I think we may even have pulled up some of those depressing videos about space and the impossible size of the universe. You know the ones that zoom out to show the infinite number of galaxies neighboring us and as a result also show how pointless this all is; how alone we really are.

Feeling like a “failure” was strange because I didn’t even really know what that meant. What measuring stick was I using exactly? Because by all accounts, I’ve been adulting for over ten years and actually have a lot to show for it. I have my own home, a fairly new and working vehicle, a meaningful job with a steady paycheck, health insurance, an Emergency fund, a dog.

But…I don’t want to measure my life in stuff. In markers of adulthood that someone else told me were important. I want to measure my life in meaning. All of those awesome things that are the result of my hard work and determination, what do they all mean?

What do I mean? What does anything mean?

I was spiraling.

But there was also some good news. The good news was that, all those nights when I lay awake, on the verge of tears, thinking about whether or not I mattered, I wasn’t wrestling with the darkness alone. The Universe was listening. The little old man who asked me when was the last time I’d felt like a failure was proof.

These feelings, these questions tend to come and go. Every 2-3 years they come hurtling at me like a train. But the collision isn’t to knock me off course. It’s to wake me up. To help me see that going through the motions is not living. That every moment of every day I can be intentional about how I’m spending my time and with who, that I can be intentional about choosing joy, or at least curiosity on days when joy is too far away. I can be intentional about what I create and consume. I can make choices in a split second that will plunge me deeper into my own fears or liberate me from them.

I can live in the questions, be crushed under their weight, or I can stop waiting for someone else to give me the answers and give them to myself. I can give meaning to my life in ways big and small. I can decide that I matter. I matter. I matter.

Getting to the End

Writing Process

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I’ve spent the past six weeks cutting over 30,000 words from my restaurant book MS. I changed the antagonist, cut out several characters, and majorly altered one of my MC’s story arcs. But I’d been picking at the last two chapters for several days, trying to figure out how to tie everything together, and nothing felt quite right.

Because the ending I was writing, the one full of hope and triumph and restorative justice was not real.

Specifically, the bad guy getting brought to justice by a working criminal justice system…was bullshit.

I wanted it to be real. I wanted every problem to have a solution. Every thread to be neatly tied up in a bow. But that feeling that was nagging at me, gnawing at me and driving me nuts, was the stronger desire to tell the truth.

This story does end on a hopeful note but it’s not because these characters and this community were rescued by the police or the government or a more powerful “white savior” character. It’s hopeful because, after everything we see these characters go through, all of the pain and injustice and every day prejudice that exhausts the mind, body, and spirit, that beats it down to dust, we also get to see them rise. We see them save themselves and each other.

One of the characters tells my male MC that “resiliency is its own reward.”

It’s not what the MC wants to hear. It’s not what any of us want to hear. We want to hear that when you work hard, when you do the right thing, you have earned the right to happiness, to safety, to the bare basics of a beautiful life in this country. But that is not the truth. And this story does not lie and say that it is.

That is why I love the ending of this book so much more than I loved the previous fifty versions. Because it does not lie. It is heartfelt. It is heroic. But most importantly, it is honest.