We have a holiday tradition at our place. Our Noche Buena table is set with a holiday ornament at each place setting. Each of us has to find the ornament that represents us that year. It’s a fun hunt for the perfect symbol and an interesting way to find your seat. But what I like most is that the ornaments eventually become part of our tree. When we pull out the dusty boxes, the memories are all there.
Well, maybe not all. Needless to say, I don’t seek out ornaments to commemorate the uglier side of family life: angry disagreements, deaths, budget headaches, overbearing relatives. (It IS tempting to imagine what symbols I’d put up, though.)
It’s not that we don’t acknowledge the sadder days of life. It’s just that there are plenty of reminders of that mess all the time. Instead, I choose to end the year with expressions of how each of us found a way to shine despite it all.
The same is true, I suppose, for the author life. Authors use social media to make relationship with readers and to create an identity that’s recognizable to the people who follow our work. It’s not the whole story of us. What we toss-up is a curated version of what it takes to make a living through words. How we curate and where we do so is always a dicey decision. What do we say? What tone do we use? Where do we say it? Are we saying anything useful or just babbling?
Some of us are more honest about the uglier moments than others. For me, the photos and events I report are the things that center on my passions: Latino identity, kid lit, feminism, and community. That’s the piece I feel comfortable sharing. The events I catalog have taught me something – good or bad about those things. Sometimes they’re invitations for you to come to an event or simply an invitation to consider an idea that’s rattling around inside my head.
But undeniably most of what I offer up are the happier moments of writing life. Why? Because (1) being able to do this for a living is a rare privilege and (2) I’ll need these memories to sustain me during the weeks when my manuscript isn’t working at all, when I’ve gotten a crappy review, when nobody comes to a signing, when sales are stagnant or when I can’t think of a single clever thing to write about next. Days like that are so predictable in most writers’ lives, but they always feel like a sucker punch to me. That was true very early in my career, and it’s true now.
Anyway, it’s the end of the year, so I’m taking stock this week of all of my social media platforms and will soon make decisions about which to keep and which to ax. It helps to take a pulse once in a while, and this time around my friend Steve Peterson is helping me take inventory and apply some analytics. The decision will boil down to time and benefit. This means finding the sweet spot where personal comfort meets analytics. Going in, I can tell you that at risk right now are my Facebook author page (as opposed to my profile) and my GoodReads account, the latter of which lays so dormant that I am positively ashamed. Steve and I have started talks about how to reach Latino readers while still pushing to remove the sense of “other” from Latino-inspired work. Which formats can I engage with reliably? Which ones duplicate effort? (Oh Lord, all the calendars everywhere!) Which offer no real gain for me or my readers?
Thinking, thinking, thinking, but I will update you as things unfold.
Meanwhile, I’ll be finishing up the year with three events this week that not only offer me a chance to reflect on old work and new, but also provide me with the joy of throwing back a beer with friends. So here is my curated update (minus my trips to the grocery, doctor’s appointment, argument with Tia Isa over her appetite…)
Thursday, Dec 10: I’m off to Busboys & Poets on NW 5th and K Street in DC, where I’ll be the December luncheon speaker for the Children’s Book Guild of Washington DC, an organization that has been around since 1945. My talk is going to focus on what I’ve learned about the slippery slope of writing culture, dodging soft censorship, and what it’s really going to take to pull Latino kid lit into the mainstream.
Friday, Dec 11: I’ll be at an all-day school visit to Mullen Elementary School in Manassas, VA. It’s always a treat to touch base with my younger readers. My very first job out of college was as a third grade teacher in New York, so I always have a soft spot for elementary school. It’s fun to hang out with kids who’ve lost their front teeth and are prone to random questions. Besides, I’ll get to talk with the fourth and fifth graders about my first (and only ) middle grade novel, Milagros Girl from Away.
Sunday, Dec 13: Dozens of Richmond-based authors will be at the free and fabulous Brew Ho-Ho, sponsored by Chop Suey Books and the folks at the Hardywood micro brewery. Come enjoy some jazz and sample concoctions like gingerbread stout. Hope to see you there!