David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Tag: diversity

Rosa Daneshvar smiling wearing a hat

A Muslim Who’s Lived In America For Decades Is Terrified

I work with Rosa Daneshvar, a wonderful writer who’s writing a novel about emigrating from the Middle East. My parents are immigrants, so I’m first-generation, and I’m fascinated by how the experience of coming to America has changed over time. We were talking about what’s happened to her, as this administration tries to ban Muslims, and I was horrified by what she told me. So I picked her brain about what it’s like living in the United States right now when your faith is under attack.

Read this interview on the HuffPost.

Rosa Daneshvar smiling wearing a hat

Rosa Daneshvar

The Book Doctors: So, Rosa, where are you from in the Middle East, and how have President Trumps actions affected you personally?

Rosa Daneshvar: I am a Muslim from Iran. Never in my thirteen years of life in the States had I felt such a feeling of terror. It started the day after President Trump’s executive order came out– when my sister’s frantic back-to-back phone calls deprived me of my lazy slumber on that Saturday morning – when I opened my eyes to dozens of messages exchanged between my brother in Canada, my sister in Washington, my father in Michigan, and my youngest sister in Iran. They all wanted me to confirm the news that there was a travel ban and deportations.

TBD: That sounds terrifying, what happened next?

RD: In the brief moment that it took me to get from my bed to my computer, my naïve, half-sleep, half-dazed self was confident that it couldn’t be true. I was assured that my family had been carried away with false news. Because it was preposterous. Then I found myself staring at the news in disbelief. It couldn’t be. I searched for more information but I found none.

TBD: What did you do?

RD: My first impulse was to write a post on Facebook to see if my Iranian friends could give me more information. I wrote: “My mom is a green-card holder and visiting home for two months. Does the executive order mean she cannot come back to the US? Has anyone had any news on this?”

Then I sank into my chair. A terrible sense of despair overwhelmed me. Gradually I realized the depth of problem my family was in. My mom only had enough money for her two-month stay, during which she was going to take care of my 79-year-old aunt after her knee surgery. With the financial exchange sanctions on Iran, we were not going to be able to send her money to live on until we figured out how she could come back. Mom herself had had knee surgery two months ago. What if she had a complication and needed to see her doctor? How could Mom live in a suitcase in my aunt’s small two-bedroom apartment indefinitely?

TBD: We were able to contact anybody back home?

RD: Yes, I called home to inquire from my youngest sister about my mom’s reaction. As soon as her image loaded on the screen, I recognized those colorful tiles of my aunt’s bathroom. My sister had locked herself up in there to cry freely without worrying others. I asked if she was worried about herself. I told her there was no news about American citizens. She said she was sick with worry about Mom.

TBD: It must be so challenging to live with this every day. What’s that like?

RD: There is profound fear, uncertainty, and confusion, just like it’s always bubbling just below the surface. My family and I have spent countless hours searching the news, checking social media, and calling government agencies and lawyers to see if our mom would be able to come back. It’s exhausting, and very stressful.

TBD: The headlines just seem to feed fears. But the media doesn’t seem interested in filling in the blanks behind the hysteria, to get to the real stories of how people are being affected.

RD: Absolutely. “Muslim ban.” “Making the country safe.” “Securing our borders.” None of the headlines was a satisfying explanation of what was unfolding before us. There was a huge gap of missing information. I wanted to fill that gap because I knew it well. It was only a few years ago that I was in the shoes of those who were impacted by the executive order. I kept wondering why were the people who were among the most educated and progressive demography of my hometown targeted as a potential threat? Perhaps the extreme vetting that visa applicants had already gone through, not to mention multiple costly and onerous trips to a third country, was not widely understood. Surely people could see the political aspect of the executive order and how it was not about securing the borders or about terrorism but purely a move that was there to serve an agenda. Just as no one would question the desire for secure borders, no one would blame one for wanting a safe country. Yes, all these things were true, but how could I make people see what I saw? How could I take them to the corners and niches of that humongous room that the travel ban was, which everyone stepped into it just a foot and walked out of without seeing all there was to see? In searching for an answer, I found myself not thinking about the people who were going to be immediately sympathetic to what I had to say, but about the people who were going to turn their backs to me, the so-called “White Americans.”

TBD: Well, I am a white American, what do you want to tell me? What do you want to tell us?

RD: So when I say “White American,” I mean the notion of White American, the negative epithet that is currently used to imply certain characteristics and a set of beliefs: a group of people who would turn their backs to me as soon as I say, “Hi, my name is Rosa and I am a Muslim from Iran.”

What diversity in the States had taught me is that too many times my ignorance had opened the door of my perceptions to a manipulative world that wanted to build an imaginary foe in my head, to bundle a group of people together and label them in a negative way. Too often the image I had let others build for me had been proven wrong. I came to this country 13 years ago with a dependent student visa in hand, like many people who, under the executive order, were not allowed to board their flight with that same visa. I landed in Boston, as my then husband was going to start his graduate studies at MIT. Not long after my arrival, in that melting pot, I met someone who for 22 years had been portrayed to me as a detested enemy. When that Israeli student asked me where I was from, a dazed fear overcame me. How was he going to react when I told him I was from Iran? This is how he reacted: he invited us to his home. We met his kind, pregnant wife and their sweet, little daughter. Even then, my shy and intimidated self was nervous about the conversations we were going to have. My Israeli friends were not like how we were back then: timid, quiet, and culturally shocked. They talked about Persian cuisine and the Persian cookbook that they used to cook from back home. They told us about our similarities and about the reminiscences of our countries’ past cultural exchanges. With their kindness and rich cultural maturity, they turned that intimidating night into something that felt like a casual catch-up with a good old friend. Having had that experience and many more, I will not let anyone build a new perception of “White Americans” for me. No one else should accept any type of group labeling.

TBD: It does seem like we fear the thing we don’t know, and often when we’re exposed to another culture we see how similar we are rather than how different.

RD: Yes! Those types of exposures germinated something invaluable in the diffident and international student that I was, something that gradually flourished to become a defining principle of my character: that perceptions are like crafts. They are not authentically yours if others have formed them for you. My Israeli friend and his wife taught me a priceless lesson. They now live in Israel with their beautiful kids. We have stayed in touch. They are my friends.

TBD: How has living in America all these years changed the way you see yourself in the world?

RD: With every change of status, I had an opportunity to see a new facet of the society. I started my own graduate studies in Chemical Engineering and held a student visa, like many student-visa holders who, under the executive order, were sent home. Along with my professional growth, I nurtured the diverse cultural exposure that was an intrinsic part of American society I was living in. Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism were not dry concepts that I would come across in books or news, but an enticing reality of the people who I interacted with daily. Atheism and agnosticism were no longer unfamiliar words in my vocabulary. It was proximity to different religions that helped make happen my long-held desire of attending a church service with my Christian friend. It debunked the “Muslims are not welcome to church” myth. I was fascinated by the merry atmosphere of the service and sense of community.

TBD: What other immigration statuses have you held and how have they impacted your life?

RD: After seven years of residing in the States on a visa, I became a permanent resident, like many individuals who were affected by the executive order. Working became a new reality in my life. My change in status lifted the restraints of a life on a visa, where crossing the borders to visit my family was risking my standing in the States. I did not miss my brother’s wedding like many of my friends. I started working as a scientist in one of the largest biopharmaceutical companies in the world. After years of exposure to this culture, America—that one big entity that had been like one individual with one opinion and personality—started to morph into millions of pieces with countless opinions, ideologies, and beliefs. I learned that there was a red and a blue and that I had lived in the Blue all along and that the Red was something that opposed my opinions and me: a Muslim from Iran.

TBD: Yes, we’ve had lots of difficulties talking about politics as we go on the road to places that seem to be fine with rabid sexism, religious intolerance and racial prejudice.

RD: Exactly. I am guilty of holding prejudice myself. All through my residence in the Blue I remained wary of the Red, even when the hands of destiny made me work alongside one in my team who loved talking about politics. If I was accidentally caught up in political conversation in my conservative colleague’s presence, I was that quiet person who wanted to keep work relationships separate from personal opinions. That did not last long. Now we have walked many walks and talked many talks. I learned, once again, that I had been wrong in assuming one voice and one entity for the Red and that it had as many opinions as it had people. My colleague is the one who said, “You cannot really understand your viewpoint until you can eloquently articulate and defend a viewpoint you disagree with.” Her opposing views challenged me to re-evaluate all that I had thought was right, and separate what I deeply believed in from what I had borrowed from others without scrutiny.

TBD: Being a writer, you know how important the nuance of words and intricacies of vocabulary are to participating successfully in a culture. It seems like that’s one reason people who come to a new country sometimes hide among their own and don’t really attempt to assimilate. Have you found that?

RD: You are absolutely right. After thirteen years, I am not that international student who is forced to a shy corner by the new culture. Only after these many years, worries of making mistakes while speaking in a foreign language do not force me into silence and solitude. I do not immerse myself in the Iranian community to shield myself from the unfamiliar world that I live in. Now I have lived in the States long enough to get half of the cultural references and realize that the Seahawks and the Red Sox are sports teams. I am fluent enough in the language to make myself understood and brave enough to talk and make mistakes and learn from them. And I have learned enough social norms of communication to surround myself with people of different colors and race.

TBD: Didn’t you recently become a citizen?

RD: By pure chance, I took my oath of citizenship two days before President Trump’s inauguration. It’s deeply unfortunate to say that I feel lucky to have taken my oath before the change of administration. It shouldn’t be this way. My sister shouldn’t have halted her wedding plans because her future in-laws cannot attend the wedding due to the travel ban. My parents should not worry about crossing the border to visit my brother in Toronto. My brother shouldn’t be banned from entering the U.S. to see us. Our story is just one of the many thousand stories of people who have been affected by the travel ban.

TBD: Do you feel the acrimonious contentiousness of this recent election has divided people, and unleashed an anger simmering beneath the surface?

RD: I do. The excessively lengthy political race and its side effects have put profoundly disproportional weight on our differences and have instigated unhealthy hate and anger. “Unanimity” and “global agreement” are attractive and elevating notions, but are not meant for a healthy society. One cannot champion diversity and not welcome differences of opinions. It is barbaric to attack an idea or a group when you don’t know what that idea or group is about. At this time when our differences are being magnified by people who are running their own race, and rage is being fanned by people who are playing their own game, it is time for all of us to start a dialogue with each other. It is necessary for us, now more than ever, to eloquently articulate and defend a viewpoint we disagree with. Dialogue is the only means to peace. It is time that we the people have a dialogue, not to change each other’s convictions, since convictions fast changed are short-lived, but to understand each other and challenge our firm, long-held beliefs against reality.

TBD: Do you ever worry that exposure to different religions and cultures will water down your own sense of who you are, what God you worship, what you believe in fundamentally?

RD: Getting to know my Israeli and Christian friends neither converted me to Judaism or Christianity nor turned my Israeli and Christian friends to Islam. My conversation with my Republican colleague did not revolutionize me to take on a new political identity. Those exposures empowered me with knowledge of new realities, and broadened my perspective so much that no biased, agenda-driven media outlet can ever again color for me every Israeli or Jew with the color of their choice. No politician can provoke me to be against other religions. No uninformed entity can wrap my opposing ideas in one box and sell it to me. Deep understanding of the reality of the world we live in is what all of us need.

TBD: As someone who has come to this country and embraced it, what would you like to say to America?

RD: The enduring greatness of this nation has been the result, in her walk through time, of a continuum of right decisions. Let’s continue to take that walk together, not in unanimity but in unity. Let’s make that right decision together, not in complete agreement but with sincere understanding. To my so-called “White American” friends, my name is Rosa. I am a Muslim and I am from Iran. Who are you? What are your concerns?

Rosa Daneshvar was born in Tehran, Iran and moved to the United States for graduate studies in 2004. She now lives in Los Angeles, where she is a Chemical Engineer at the world’s largest independent biopharmaceutical company. Her first novel is Darya Chronicles. Inspired by her own cultural experiences and challenges of living away from home, she tells a story of the turbulent life of an Iranian woman, Darya, who has moved to the States for her graduate studies. Rosa is an avid Western horseback rider and dreams of having her own ranch with horses and cattle. Visit her at: rosadaneshvar.com

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

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Book cover of Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper and Raul the Third; characters in a car driving underground

Cathy Camper on Lowriders, Graphic Novels and Diversity in Books

We first met Cathy Camper when she won our Pitchapalooza at the great Portland bookstore Powell’s. The first book in the series did so well that the second one is out now, so we thought we’d pick her brain about books, lowriders, outer space, libraries and diversity in books.

Read the interview on the Huffington Post.

Book cover of Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper and Raul the Third; characters in a car driving underground

Chronicle Books

The Book Doctors: Tell us about the new book.

Cathy Camper: Lowriders to the Center of the Earth came out July 2016. This graphic novel follows Lowriders in Space. The three main characters are the same, but you can read each book on its own and still understand what’s going on. At the end of Lowriders in Space, Genie, Elirio, Lupe and Flapjack Octopus’s cat goes missing. The three embark on a crazy road trip to find their cat. It leads them down into the Underworld, ruled by Miclantecuhtli, the Aztec God of the Dead. He’s catnapped their gato, and to get back Genie, it will take all their combined wits and camaraderie to outwit La Llorona, Chupacabra driving a monster truck, and Miclantecutli, who wears a luchadore cape of eyeballs! Similar to the first book, Raúl III illustrated it all in ballpoint pen, with the addition of a green pen in this book, because they get lost in a maíz maze along the way.

TBD: How was it different writing the second book after the first book did so well?

CC: Once you have a book out there, there’s always pressure to deliver another book that’s equally good. Luckily, I was already thinking up book two at the same time I was writing book one. I had to do a big rewrite early on, which was tough, but the book kept getting richer and richer the more I wrote. Also – a big difference – when I wrote book one, I didn’t know who would illustrate it, or even if it would be a graphic novel or picture book. But with book two, I was able to write towards Raúl III, and his style. I even asked him, “What do you like drawing?” He said, “Bats and skeletons.” So I wrote the story to let his artwork flourish. In this way, we work together more like musicians, and it’s really fun.

TBD: There seems to be this idea in the publishing community that Latino people don’t read books. Could you address that please?

CC: Well that’s sure not been our experience – every school visit and author talk we’ve done, we have Latinx loving our book, both kids and adults. Those publishers might need to look at it the other way around; if people aren’t buying their books, maybe you don’t have things people want to read. School Library Journal just chose our book as one of their top Latinx books of 2016 for kids, and we got this best books of 2016 shout out from Gene Yang, Ambassador of Children’s Books, so there ya go!

TBD: What are some of the challenges of writing a graphic novel, as opposed to a novel without images?

CC: A graphic novel is a collaboration (unless you’re drawing it too), so you can’t be too precious about your words….lots get edited, cut and changed. Writing a comic is more like writing a film than fiction; your words are instructing actions. So you need to be like a director when you visualize what happens; it’s boring to have lots of static scenes with crowded dialog. Sometimes, you can sneak a little poetry into the text, but more often, the poetry exists in the meld between text and art.

Photo of Raúl Gonzalez III and Cathy Camper smiling

Cathy Camper (right) and Raúl Gonzalez III (left)

TBD: Tell us about the process of working with your illustrator.

CC: Raúl III and I are lucky, because we get along super well. When we started to work together, we had only spent around eight hours together (he lives in Boston, I live in Portland, OR), but we both have a good work ethic, a similar sense of humor, and we give each other a lot of give and take in the books’ creation. Generally, I write the story first with the editors, then it goes to Raúl and the art director, for the blocking of panels and pages, and artwork. In most kids’ picture books, the artist and illustrator only communicate via the editor. But Raúl and I often share ideas; he might suggest text, and I might tell him something to tuck in the illustrations. It really is like playing jazz, lots of improvisation and adding in things we discover along the way.

TBD: How has being a librarian affected your work as an author?

CC: I wrote these books because I couldn’t find them to give to kids at my library. We desperately need more diverse books, and books that appeal to boys. Working around teachers, parents and kids all day, I know what books are connecting with folks. I’m also pretty good at pitching books to people – I do it for my job! As a librarian, I’ve also learned a ton about publishing and the business side of books, how books are made, ordered and promoted.

TBD: What is your next project?

CC: I’m working on the third lowrider book. It’s called Blast from the Past; L’il Lowriders in Space. Remember L’il Archies, or the Muppet Babies? This is the same thing – it’s all about our three heroes when they were kids, their families and where they grew up. I have an Arab American picture book that will come out in 2019, called Ten Ways to Hear Snow with Penguin/Dial. There’s another Arab American picture book in the works, and a YA novel called Circle A, about some kids in the ‘80s that meet some punks squatting in an abandoned house. That one deals with issues of social justice, race, sexual orientation and how images are misused in the media, all issues that are front and center right now. I look at each book as a good adventure, you never know where it will lead.

TBD: What or some graphic novels you love, and why?

CC: For kids, I enjoyed Fantasy Sports by Sam Bosma, and The Hilda comics by Luke Pearson are really imaginative. I also recommend March Grand Prix by Kean Soo, for kids that ask for more comics about cars, since it’s about car racing. I thought the Lunch Witch books by Deb Lucke were also great. For adult comics, I love Ed Luce’s Wuvable Oaf, and thought the compilation The Shirley Jackson Project edited by Rob Kirby, of comics about Shirley Jackson, was fantastic.

TBD: Any exciting news about Lowriders in Space, since it came out in 2014?

CC: Yes, Lowriders in Space got nominated for a Texas Bluebonnet Award, so Raul and I have done a lot of author presentations down there, and felt all kinds of love from the Lone Star State. The Bluebonnet committee is made up of awesome librarians and educators, and they posted a lot of fun material educators and parents can use to supplement our book.

Also, both Raúl and I have heard many accounts of how our books connect with kids. The most touching is testimony that they are a gateway books, for kids who just wouldn’t read. For kids that don’t see themselves reflected in books, for kids that struggle with reading, for autistic kids – we’ve heard again and again our book was the spark that lit the flame of how exciting reading can be. As creators, we’d hoped to share a story in our heads with folks, but to have those stories open the door to the pleasure of a lifetime of reading? We are totally awed, and honored.

TBD: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers, illustrators, or graphic novel people?

CC: Keep writing. Writing is like a boiling pot; if you have talent and write enough, it will get better and better, something good will eventually boil over and someone will notice. My other advice is to do work in the DIY/alternative world, the same as you do in the mainstream world. Eventually the two overlap, and the adventures and skills you learn in both end up complimenting each other. And for writers of color, and writers outside the mainstream, don’t give up! We need your stories, and you are the future.

Cathy Camper is the author of Lowriders in Space, and Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, with a third volume in the works. She has a forthcoming picture book, Ten Ways to Hear Snow, and also wrote Bugs Before Time: Prehistoric Insects and Their Relatives. Her zines include Sugar Needle and The Lou Reeder, and she’s a founding member of the Portland Women of Color zine collective. A graduate of VONA/Voices writing workshops for people of color in Berkeley, California, Cathy works as a librarian in Portland, Oregon, where she does outreach to schools and kids in grades K-12.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE INTERVIEWS AND TIPS ON HOW TO GET PUBLISHED.  

Low Riders in Space: Cathy Camper on Graphic Novels, Low Riders, & Diversity

The Book Doctors  first met Cathy Camper at a Pitchapalooza (think American Idol for Books) at one of our favorite book stores, Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. As soon as she pitched us her graphic novel, Low Riders in Outer Space”, we knew this was a great book waiting to happen. And now it has. So we thought we’d pick her brain on what it was like to go from talented amateur to professionally published author.

Lowriders in Space_FC_HiRes Raul the Third (credit Elaine Bay) Cathy Camper_headshot_photo (c) Jayson Colomby_sm

The Book Doctors: Did being a librarian influence your writing & your approach to publication?

Cathy Camper: In 2006, I moved to Portland, OR and was working as a youth services outreach librarian. I’d bring books to schools and I got really angry. I was seeing diverse groups of kids, but all the books were about white suburban children. As an Arab-American, I know what it’s like not to see yourself in books. Plus, so many books that feature kids of color are old, or not written for the world kids live in today, but for the past, their parents’ world. The 2050 census says one third of the U.S. will be English-Spanish speaking households – that’s our audience! I also wanted a book for boys, since boys literacy rate is dropping. And I love science, and there’s a big push to get more science in school curriculums. I aimed my book and my pitch at these big audiences, and told publishers why it they were important.

TBD: Tell us about your long & winding road to publication.

CC: First I wrote the book, from 2006 to 2009. Then I emailed Raul Gonzalez, the artist, who was working as a fine artist, and asked if he’d ever considered doing a kids’ book? He said, yes, and so I sent him the script. He wrote back, “This is the book I wanted to read as a kid, “ and within days, he was sending me sketches of the characters. It was just plain luck that we were so well matched; we have a similar sense of humor, similar sensibilities and the same work ethic. We put together a pitch. I found lists of agents who repped graphic novels online, and sent it out as cold calls. It was right as the recession was hitting, and no one wanted it. On the plus side, people loved the art and writing, so I knew that wasn’t the issue…but I’d hear things like “too marginal an audience,” or “not quite right (white enough?) for our audience.” Also I got lots of warnings that bringing in my own artist would be a problem; though it’s common in the world of comics, it’s not done in the children’s book world.

I reached the end of the list of agents, and was lying awake nights wondering what to do. Then I heard about the Book Doctors Pitchapalooza. It’s funny, but I never realized there was a prize, or maybe I thought you just won a free copy of a book or something. I entered thinking, wow, I can test how good my pitch really is, because I didn’t know the judges, the audience, no one. Ironically, the day I did my pitch, I’d just done book talks as a librarian for six classes. So I thought, why not do it for my own book? It wasn’t until the judges were actually conferring that it occurred to me I might actually win.

The Book Doctors were the ones who connected the book to Chronicle Books and to our agent Jennifer Laughran. They made it happen. I think all publishing is like this – part talent, part hard work, and part luck. All creators can control is honing the talent and doing the work. But it’s important to do, because when luck comes your way, you want to be ready.

TBD: Why did u decide to do a graphic novel?

CC: Actually the book could have been a picture book, or a floppy comic, but graphic novels felt like the best fit, so I tried that first. I love comics- how both text and pictures tell the story. Plus graphic novels are hot! When graphic novels first came out, libraries and books stores didn’t know what to do with them. But now there are so many good graphic novels for kids, and they’ve become so popular, I think they’re figuring it out. Both Raul and I love comics and the flexibility they allow – it’s like making a movie where anything can happen – on a budget of Bic pens!

TBD: What were some of the joys and challenges of blending your words with an artist’s images?

CC: When I start writing the script, I have to be very descriptive in the sense that the script is all there is for the artist, editors and art director to work with. So I work very hard to build a world, characters and pictures in their minds. When Raul draws the thumbnails, a lot of the words I’ve written (not just dialog, but description, innuendo, expressions etc.) are now part of the illustrations, and there’s no need to have them in the text. So lots of text gets cut because it’s redundant when the art is there. Raul and I were lucky that we had great freedom to riff off of each other’s ideas, like jazz musicians, and to take as many pages as we needed to make it work. On the downside, we sometimes struggled with not being able to work together in the same place, at the same time…email and different time zones create extra hurdles when you have unwieldy edits to do.

TBD: From the first we heard your title Low Rides in Outer Space we loved it. How’d you come up with it?

CC: I don’t remember the exact moment it hit me, but it was very early on. I think it was a natural extension of the concept, which was that these characters would have a lowrider that got detailed by outer space. It’s only recently that a friend pointed out the cool little twist inherent in the title, the idea of a car designed to go low – that blasts into the highest place there is – space!!

TBD: How did you come up with the idea for the book?

CC: Daydreams. I’m a prolific daydreamer, and all my books start with stories I tell myself. That’s how the story came about. I also noted as a librarian that books on lowriders were super popular, but we only had three or four of them for kids, all nonfiction. I tried to find a book like mine, but when I saw it didn’t exist I thought, well, I’ll have to try to write it myself.

TBD: There’s been a lot of talk about diversity in publishing. What’s your take on that?

CC: We need more diverse kids books, and I’m so glad there’s pressure to change things. At Multnomah County Library where I work, we recently made a booklist of good picture books for African American kids. There wasn’t one set on the West Coast – from these books you’d think African Americans only live in brownstones in Brooklyn! Way too many were dire historical stories about slavery or hard times – where are the books about kids of color building forts, playing make believe, just doing things that kids do?

We need this book primarily so kids of color see themselves in books, but also so white culture isn’t always primary. If a book is about a generic kid, why is that kid always white? It’s important that white readers see kids of color too. I sometimes joke – when a book like Diary of a Wimpy Kid is about a girl wearing hijab – you’ll know things are changing!

TBD: How did you learn to be a writer?

CC: On my Arab side, my dad and uncle were writers, and so I grew up with the idea that writing was cool, something I’d want to do. So I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I carried a notebook around, took classes, went to conferences, was involved in writing groups and recently participated in VONA/VOICES writing workshops for people of color. But it was always self-driven, I never got an MFA, in part because I think it changes a writers voice, and also because, as Junot Diaz recently pointed out, MFA programs aren’t that supportive of writers of color.

TBD: What’s your advice for writers, both as a writer & a librarian?

CC: One crucial tip I’ll pass on is that so much of the quirky DIY stuff I did for many years for free ended up being what led to this book. For example, for decades I’ve written reviews of books for School Library Journal, Kirkus and Lambda Literary. I’ve also written and published zines and supported them as a zine librarian. I didn’t see it until now, but those things not only honed my writing skills, they created two huge support networks of people who knew my work. The adventures I’ve had and the people I’ve met via DIY vs. mainstream connections are equal. Don’t underestimate the value of what you do just because it’s not mainstream.

Also, as a librarian, I’d tell writers, don’t write in a bubble. Be aware of the market your book will fall into, its audience, and the reason why people will read it. If you’re going to spend time writing a book, do research, talk to librarians and bookstore folk about what people are reading, read other books in your category so you’ll know who your competition is. Think about what would make a publisher sink time and money to back your work. Your book may fall in a large category everyone already reads or it might be the first to fulfill a long-felt need, but that should to be part of your pitch, and an intrinsic part of the book you write.

TBD: Has Robert Rodriguez called yet?

CC: Wouldn’t that be great? I hear he loves lowriders, and Raul and I are huge fans of his movies, and how he funded them in early days, from the ground up. We love that he made Spy Kids, and that he knows how important it is for kids of color to have and be in good films too. I hope he reads our comic, it’s seems like it’d be something he’d like

Cathy Camper is the creator of Bugs Before Time: Prehistoric Insects and Their Relatives. Her work has also been featured in Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People, by Amy Sedaris, as well as in Wired, Cricket, Cicada, Primavera, Women’s Review of Books, Utne Reader, and Giant Robot. She is a graduate of VONA/Voices writing workshops for people of color in Berkeley, California. She reviews graphic novels online for Lambda Literary and is a librarian for Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon, where she does outreach to schools and kids in grades K-12. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Raúl the Third’s work is drawing much acclaim and was featured in four recent exhibits: The Community Arts Initiative at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Carroll and Sons Art Gallery; the Fitchburg Art Museum; and his first solo museum exhibition at the Museum of Art, University of New Hampshire. He teaches classes on drawing and comics for kids at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Maud Morgan Arts community arts center in Cambridge; and Young Audiences of Massachusetts. Influenced by his youth in the border town of El Paso-Juarez, Raúl’s artwork recalls the old Mercado Cuauhtemoc and its many booths filled with old curiosities, etchings by José Guadalupe Posada, and the ballpoint pen–detailed fan art found in issues of Lowrider magazine. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010).

 

 

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