Jacaranda trees in Addis Ababa. Photo credit: renzo59, Flickr.
I made two mistakes in The Girl in the Road that will be corrected in future editions. One is minor, the other isn’t.
The first mistake was saying the purple-blooming trees in Addis Ababa are “hyacinth trees.” I somehow got that word stuck in my head while I was there—it might have been a mishearing or misunderstanding on my part—but they’re actually jacaranda trees (and SOOOO pretty!).
The second mistake is when Meena is describing her trans lover, Mohini, on page 19: “Mohini, by the time I left, had fully changed into a woman with woman-parts,” and on page 159: “We had sex as woman and man only once.” I could say that these sentences actually show Meena’s lack of savvy, but the truth is, that’d be really out of character for her. It’s on me. At the time I submitted my final manuscript, I still didn’t fully understand that gender and genitalia had no correlation, and that the words used to describe a person should be the ones they choose. Mohini was always a woman and Meena always knew the right words for her. Most of the book reflects that, but these sentences don’t. Mohini was never a boy, just like the jacaranda tree was never a hyacinth tree.
Thank you to the reviewer who mentioned this. I think she was on Goodreads. I know some authors are like “STET!” on anything they publish at the time of publication, but I want to honor the fact that writers mess up and learn better—in my case, thanks to Janet Mock, Keffy Kehrli, Laverne Cox, and so many others—especially when it concerns such an important moral and human rights issue. The words we use matter.
Image: From My Only Sin is Being a Woman, by Belizean artist Briheda Haylock.
My first NEW SUNS column is out. It’s about lushness in art, tourist gaze, and feather collecting. It’s about the badass corps of Belizean artist who are turning their world upside down, forcing new orbits and new centers of gravity. They’re talking about LGBT youth, domestic violence, gender construction—all new territory in a conservative pop culture. They’re forcing their country to listen. They’re creating their future.
And writing about them was made possible by my patrons. Intrigued? Join here. Patrons get all kinds of goody extras, including behind-the-scenes dirt and postcards from abroad.
Writing this piece was deeply instructive. The funny thing is, while I was writing, I kept casting about for points of reference and sources of authority. How to justify writing about THESE stories and not others?—and I’d gravitate toward Belize being English-speaking, or being a favorite of USian retirees. In other words, falling into the exact same white-proximity traps of “justification” and “newsworthiness” I observed as a freelancer all the time.
So, funny thing: I’m still finding my own orbit, too.
Thanks to those of you who are helping me.
Hier ist mein Roman auf Deutsch. Ich liebe das Bild—die Wasser und der Himmel, es ist wie der Mond. Meine Großmutter war von Deutschland, oder ich soll sagen, ihre Familie. Ich will denken dass sie ganz stolz ist.
Und jetzt, ich stoppe. ¡Es muy dificil, recordando mi alemán, pórque mi mente tiene solo español ahora!
(P.S.: Google Translate is your friend. It is mine, constantly. :))
This year, I made a New Years Resolution to wear all of my dresses in public at least once and document them, or I had to get rid of them. I’m happy to report that PROGRESS IS GOOD. Here‘s the full album to date.
However, there are issues. First, I’m behind pace, as I’ve only reached the halfway point now. Second, I’m starting to forget which ones I’ve worn, and accidentally repeat (case in point: #16 and #51). Third, I’ve gone through all the “normal” dresses now, and it’s just going to get weirder and weirder from here on out.
Residents of Durham: CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED.
I shared my balcony with wasps for three years, peacefully. It never occurred to me to get rid of them because they never bothered me. I liked watching them come and go on their errands while I read or wrote. We were co-working.
Then one night last week, I was getting up to go inside, and put my foot down right on a cluster that had fallen, and got stung to kingdom come. The wasps went crazy. Two of them flew into my apartment. While my friend took care of those (with a copy of The Ethical Slut, no less), I put ice on them, washed them, daubed a traditional Belizean ointment on them, took two Advil and an antihistamine, and by the time I went to bed you couldn’t even tell where the stings were.
I felt like some unspoken treaty had been violated. I got a can of Raid. When I used it for the first time, the jet startled me so much I almost dropped the can. Wasps flew in every direction like fireworks. I hurried back inside and closed the door. But I could see them writhing on the ground.
Now everything is quiet.
I was out there, just now, and saw a single wasp fly in, as if to check whether anyone was home. No, nobody home, the nests are empty. She flew away again.
I feel bad.
This is the closest shot I could get of the main cluster. Somehow it resists the focusing action of my smartphone camera, like a scattering glamour.
I get lots of requests for advice on how to get one’s book published. Thank you for asking. I’m happy to be in a position to give advice, and grateful you felt you could ask me. If I’ve sent you this link instead of writing out an answer, please don’t take it personally. It’s to save me having to write out the same thing over and over.
First of all: the publishing industry as a whole is still racist and sexist as fuck, and that may affect your experience. But there are also lots of really wonderful people in publishing who are awake, aware, and working to change the industry. The only way to change the system is to flood it. It’s already changing. We need more of us. Please, please, please do not let it deter you.
That said, here is the same publishing advice I give to everyone:
- Write a really good book. This is by far the most important step.
- Go the traditional route for now, not self-publishing.
- Write up a list of books you think are similar to yours.
- Find out what agents represent those books. Usually you can find this out through a bit of Googling, or looking in the Acknowledgments section of a book.
- Find out the agencies where those agents work. This is also easily searchable by Google.
- Write a really good query letter.
- Query the agent by email. Be sure to follow their guidelines.
- Query widely. I queried 49 agents in total for The Girl in the Road.
- Wait. Follow up politely if it’s been over three months (or the agency’s specified wait time).
- In the meantime, start another book.
That’s it. It’s what I did over a period of five years. It’s a ton of work, and there’s no silver bullet.
Corollary to this issue: I get lots of requests to “take a look at” work—novels, stories, plays, graduate school application essays. But unless I ask for it, I’m really sorry, I can’t, especially not for free. I make a living from writing. Giving feedback on another person’s writing is paid, professional work. Before I sold my novel, I was charging $50/hr. Now the rate would be significantly higher; but even so, I generally don’t have the time anymore. (John Scalzi elaborates more on the reasons for all this, so I’ll just link to him.)
Also, unless I ask, I’m really sorry, I can’t refer you to my agent or editor. I sometimes send them suggestions, but it’s only of my own volition.
Thank you for understanding. Keep writing. Good luck.
Today is my parents’ wedding anniversary. Here is a poem my Dad wrote for my Mom, shortly after she began to lose her sight from radiation treatments.
THE ACCOUNTANT’S DAUGHTER, ALMOST BLIND
by Donald E. Byrne Jr.
You tell me face to face you have figured out
where your missing money was. I know how proud
you feel: the accountant’s daughter, almost blind,
who still can reconcile a bottom line.
But your eyes align uneven on my face.
The blind left slips slightly down to a place
on my cheek. The right one seeks my eyes, but finds
only where they were, inferred from the outline
it sees of my head. You will never see again
in my eyes what my eyes see in you. Still, I can
see your soul in those darker windows, that see
by memory what they love, and reconcile me,
too, like a sum momentarily lost, then
found exactly where it should have been.