Ohmigawd, ohmigawd, you guys! There are 18 of us Junebugs here and I couldn’t be more jubilated that you’ve chosen to be here. I feel like Elle Woods when she’s admitted to Harvard: accepted. Acknowledged.
And that’s what this newsletter is about: acknowledgment.
Not to sound too desperate, or like, Penn Badgley circa Joe Goldberg in You, but your acknowledgment means a lot to me. You can end up feeling like you’re writing into a void on the reg. With the “Oh, would I know anything you wrote?” questions (to which the answer is always, “No, you haven’t heard of it. Hahaha! *glug of wine, glug of wine*”) and the “Isn’t that cute” reactions when you tell people you write books for kids, it can often seem like nobody cares. So…what’s the point?
*You* are the point. And so is Frances.
I met Frances (not her real name, because she’s a kid, and also because with her unshakeable disposition I’m not entirely sure she isn’t an international spy and I don’t want to blow her cover) this past weekend at the Wildflower Center in Austin, TX for their Children’s Book Fair. A slew of us local authors were hanging out, selling our books. One girl—Frances, probably 7 or 8—came over to my table while her mom perused other books. No one else was at the table, she didn’t even say hi, and she propped my display copy of Whobert open so she could just barely see the pages. Like, the book was probably open only two inches max, and she would flip each page just an eighth of an inch so she could read the next one. She noticed Perry playing possum and understood the book right away. She whispered to herself, “He’s right behind him!” She got it. She got me. Frances totally figured out my sense of humor and the play that can be found in a murder mystery where no one has actually been murdered. Don’t you ever find death to be funny? Yes, sometimes it’s totally morbid and devastating and sad, but sometimes it’s like, “We’ve spent all this time on Earth to make connections and achieve dreams and build a family, to just keel over and that’s it. Hahaha! *glug of wine, glug of wine*”
Anyway, Frances got it. She grabbed her mom and pointed at the book.
“You want this one?” Mom asked.
Frances simply nodded.
Mom flipped through it, but I’m not convinced she saw what Frances did in Whobert. And that’s totally okay! This is not a The nerve! moment. I’m a firm believer that art of all kinds is subjective and you have just as much right to say my book isn’t your cup of tea as you have to say you think it’s a hoot. Frances’s mom told her she should check out all the rest of the books at the fair first, just to make sure Whobert was the one she wanted. That’s a smart strategy. I’m a gal who gets excited about things INSTANTLY, especially when it comes to shopping, and can jump into a situation before I think it through. Mom’s advice seemed wise. So off Frances and Mom went.
Frances came back about every half an hour to make sure there were still copies of the book. There were. She checked four times over the course of two hours and every time her mom asked, “This is the book you want?” Frances never hesitated to nod. She was committed, she took the time to look at other books, and Whobert was the one.
Frances asked me to sign it. I asked her what color she’d like me to sign it in (I always carry the rainbow with me).
I love Frances. No kid ever asks me to sign the book in black when they have every color at their fingertips.
I signed the book with my usual pun, “You are owlmazing!”
She smiled and said flatly, “That’s funny.”
“I have a feeling you and I have very similar senses of humor,” I said.
“I laugh easily,” Frances replied, almost like Wednesday Addams where you can’t quite imagine her laughing out loud, or hysterically, but getting a quiet chuckle out of life every now and then. Or fairly regularly, according to Frances. And I loved that she got this inconspicuous kick out of life.
“I can’t believe some people go through life and never laugh,” Frances finished. Then she walked away.
Frances for the win!
I was so honored that Frances—quiet, observant, quirky Frances—picked my book as something that made her softly chuckle.
And it’s simple moments like that that make the writing game worth it. Getting acknowledgment. Even from one reader. It’s so uplifting. I literally felt full after Frances left.
I had a friend ask me once if I’d keep writing if nobody read my work. I said no. And I still feel that way. I watched the Taylor Swift doc Miss Americana and the part that resonated so hard for me was when Tay was on the phone and learned that Reputation was not nominated for any Grammys (which was a surprise to me because Look What You Made Me Do was my most-listened to song that year, according to the bots at Spotify). Taylor was so unabashedly disappointed. She wanted that recognition, that acknowledgment, and her first reaction was, “I’ll make a better album next time.” I AM ROBSESSED WITH THIS REACTION. Wanting to make something good enough that the world takes notice and tells you how much they love it. I hope to do this someday. I want to make it on to State Lists, I’d love to win an award, I would cry my eyes out if I ever made the New York Times Best Seller List. I would especially lose it in heaves and sobs full of snot if JAY’S GAY AGENDA achieved any of those milestones, because the isolated, country gay teen I was a decade and a half ago couldn’t think of a world where queerness was embraced and celebrated. And I know we aren’t supposed to set our sense of worth on these things because they are so out of our control and so against the odds, but Lord and Taylor, wouldn’t it be nice? Isn’t getting published in the first place against the odds and out of our control, but we do it anyway? So, to use a cliché, why not shoot for the stars?
We want to make people laugh, or cry, or emote in a plethora of ways, because can you believe some people go through life without doing any of those things? Why not make as many people as possible feel those things?
But even if those big dreams don’t come true, or any accolades come my way, I’ll keep writing. For us to share moments like these in a newsletter. For those moments where you connect with even just one reader. For that tiny bit of acknowledgment.
Well-Deserved and Well-Dressed
Speaking of people who are changing the world and deserve all the accolades, LOOK AT THIS ELLE SPREAD WITH THESE FIERCE WRITERS.
I first saw the pictures on Elizabeth Acevedo’s Instagram and literally screamed. Then I hopped in my car so I could get myself a hardcopy of the February issue of Elle. I’ve always thought being an author—as part of the entertainment industry—deserved the glamour treatment just as much as any other from of entertainment, and I’m so jubilated to see it happen! We’ve got five monumental authors—Tomi Adeyemi, Akwaeke Emezi, Elizabeth Acevedo, Angie Thomas, and Nic Stone—each done up in high fashion leeeeewks, and talking about why they write and the power of representation.
It’s a topic I can relate to. When your presence is acknowledged in books, you feel more seen in reality. For me, it brings with it a sense of empowerment with the knowledge that you are deserving of acknowledgment in the real world. It took a long time for me to get there with my genderqueerness, but I’m super appreciative for the folks who have acknowledged and encouraged my existence as a person who doesn't fall into traditional gender categories. Special shoutout to Mabel Hsu at HarperCollins for posting this tweet about gender-inclusive restrooms, and the love and support everyone piled on about creating spaces for everybody.
Let’s wrap up this post by throwing a spotlight on a rom-com I adored: LOVEBOAT, TAIPEI by Abigail Hing Wen. We’ve got love triangles, we’ve got summer trysts, we’ve got friend drama all set in a city that is now at the top of my Need to Visit list. Read it!
That’s it for this week, Junebugs. Thanks again for always making me feel like this: