I picked up two new books at Saturday’s A Word with Writers event, featuring Mira Jacob and Kirstin Valdez Quade, as part of a series sponsored by Bookworks to benefit the Albuquerque Public Library Foundation.
First the authors read excerpts from their books:
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob:
“Amina wasn’t totally sure where one should be when one’s brother was being seduced, but she was pretty sure the backseat was not the right place.”
Night at the Fiestas by Kirstin Valdez Quade:
“Frances was pretending to be someone else, someone whose father was not the bus driver.”
During the Q&A that followed, I asked the question:
“I’ve read a lot of articles lately that discuss how even though there is a desire among readers for more diversity in books, there are still barriers to the publication of diverse books. Did either of you encounter these types of barriers in your publication process, and if so, what were they and how did you overcome them?”
Mira Jacob said that when she first started writing, she assumed that readers would only want stories from a white American viewpoint, so she wrote white American main characters. The stories were awful because they were not authentic for her. Once she started writing from a viewpoint that was true for her, (an Indian immigrant family adjusting to life in the U.S., including New Mexico!), readers were very receptive. She did add that when approached about a movie version of her book, the executives were worried that there weren’t enough Indians in America to constitute a good-sized audience. “What about everybody else in America?” Jacob said. “But that’s Hollywood.”
Kirstin Valdez Quade agreed that readers are by nature empathetic and want to read books from different cultures and ethnicities, but the publishing industry tends to be risk adverse, and anything non-white can be seen as a risk.
One extra tidbit that was super exciting for me, of must-cut-down-word-count fame: both Jacob and Quade tend to overwrite and then trim down, a lot. Jacob admitted her original draft of The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing was twice as long. Twice!
I’m in good company.