Thursday, June 21, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Meg Medina

Sometimes, I just can't believe my lucky bloggin' stars. I am a Sucker for Latin American history. (Please note that it is Sucker with a capital S.) Some of my favorite books are those that take place in Latin America or contain Latin American characters. So naturally, when I heard about The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind, with it's beautiful title, whose content might include a dash of magic realism, I knew I would love it.

A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to finally sit down and read this beautiful book and I was suddenly transformed into "The Girl Who Needed to Silence Her Children So She Could Finish the Book". Besides being a page turner and sooooo beautifully written, this young adult novel touches your heart. That is why with butterflies in my stomach, I introduce this week's featured author, the talented, Meg Medina.  (Warning: What you are about to read will change and inspire you.)

Banana Peeling with Meg Medina

 For me book signings are potentially the most damaging banana peels of all. Slip on one of these unpredictable babies, and you’re liable to end up nursing your tattered ego at the Infirmary for Soul-Sucked Authors.

A couple of years ago, I was invited to an event in Pennsylvania that was designed to raise money for public libraries. The idea was simple and elegant:  YA authors would gather to do signings and sell books.  A portion of the proceeds would go to the library fund. I agreed to come without a second thought. One of my daughters was looking at colleges at the time, and we could stop by as part of our six-hour road trip north. How flattering to be invited, and how exciting to be giving time to help libraries.

Caption: Most asked questions. Where’s the bathroom? How much is The Hunger Games in paperback? ($8.99, by the way)
To this day, I want to kick myself. It didn’t occur to me to ask a single question, not of the teen organizer and not of myself. 

I arrived to find the event well attended by teens that flocked to the YA author sitting next to me. “Oh my God,” they squealed. “Your book changed my life!” Her line was very, very long; she was getting hand cramps. I, on the other hand, sat listening to the sound of crickets. My stack of well-reviewed  – and untouched -- middle grade novels sat untouched. What self-respecting 17-year-old reads a novel about someone who is 12? 

My daughter, a sweet kid by nature, watched from nearby with pity in her eyes. “It’s okay Mom,” she said when we got back in the car for the long ride home. I started laughing, but soon enough the chortles turned to tears.  I hadn’t sold or signed a single book in three hours, and I was ashamed. It’s awful to feel like a failure; even worse, when you get to feel that way in front of your kid.

Since then, I’ve learned that book signings can be deadly to even well known authors with a national fan base. So, in the interest of keeping my dignity, I’ve changed gears. Instead of planning a signing, I ask myself hard questions.  Why does this book in particular matter to me?  How can it impact kids?  What can I offer my own community through this work -- beyond a chance to spend money for my signature on the title page?

For me, the answer has become a path into community work.  When The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind published in March, I did a small launch with friends at my favorite indie bookstore. But I was also working on The Hope Tree Project, where 600 high school kids from our city’s high schools created aluminum representations of a hope or dream they had for themselves. Youth and hope are major themes in that novel, and I decided that the best way to honor my work as an author was to send it into the world in a way that reflects those themes. It took a lot of planning and collaboration, but in the end, the gorgeous “milagros” or hope charms are displayed at The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia until July 4. After that, pieces of the exhibit will travel to Richmond City Hall for Hispanic Heritage Month in September. 

I have absolutely no evidence that this project sold me more books than a traditional signing. So what did I gain? I got good media coverage, new relationships, strong interest, and above all, some dignity. I sent the book out into the world in a way that reflected what mattered most to me: Latino kids, good books, and hope.

It could be that one day I’ll have a long line snaking out the door at one of my events.  But that’s not what I think about any more. Now, it’s about writing and life meaning – and that beautiful point where the two come together.

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WOW. Don't you want to be just like her? Thankin' my lucky bloggin' stars I get to learn from authors like Meg Medina!

P.S.
Check out Meg’s newest summer reading project for girls – with fellow Candlewick author, Gigi Amateau. www.girlsofsummerlist.wordpress.com




21 comments:

  1. "...nursing your tattered ego at the Infirmary for Soul-Sucked Authors." Hah, going to write this line in my journal!

    Love how that banana-peel moment informed and molded your promotion for THE GIRL WHO COULD SILENCE THE WIND. It isn't all about copies sold, is it?

    Great author pic!

    Thank you!

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    1. So poetic! What an inspiration! Thanks so much Joanna for your comment!

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  2. Thanks for sharing, Meg. Your books sound wonderful and I have added them to my list of books I want to read.
    Thanks, Elizabeth for your Banana Peelin' series. I look forward to each one.

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    1. Awww...thanks Penny. I have added some more of her books to my list as well. Did you check out her summer reading list for girls as well? It's a gold mine!

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  3. I have been to that infirmary a few too many times :) Thanks for sharing a wonderful post! The Girl Who Could Silence The WInd sounds terrific *adds to extensive TBR list!* :)

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    1. That infirmary sounds intense. I think I would still like a shot at it though. =)I am shielding myself with the banana peel mush from all you experts! =) Thanks so much for your comment!

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  4. Wow, I love this post. It freaks me out a little, as I am talking to my publisher's marketing guy right now about doing some events. But to be able to handle all of it with the grace of Meg...now that is something to strive for! Thanks to both of you lovely ladies for the inspiration!

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    1. Isn't her post great? You will be great at your events! I think what Meg said about making it meaningful seems to be key. So excited for you! Thanks for you comment! =)

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  5. Thanks, Meg. I love the way you created a positive experience, not just a book launch. Beautiful. I also hope to grow up to be like you. :)

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    1. Amazing, right? Such a great model for us prepublished people. =) Thanks for your comment Hannah!

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  6. Thanks for sharing your experience. I love hearing about authors who are able to meld books with charity.

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    1. Isn't she a wonderful example Darshana? Thanks so much for your comment!

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  7. Very inspiring, Meg! I've been at book signing events where 2 people showed up in my line. One kid was more interested in the prop on my desk, a 3-D puzzle of the Forbidden City than in my book Cixi, The Dragon Empress. He wanted to know if he could buy it. Ha. Ha. You have to just find the humor in things and move on. I love your positive attitude!

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  8. Such wise words. I have SO been there! At my first book signing, they had 25 copies of the book on hand and 150 people showed up. At my second signing, they were prepared with 150 books piled on a hand truck and 7 people came. Embarrassing! I think I heard a few of the same crickets that were at your signing!!

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  9. That is an incredible story, and I got tears in my own eyes when your daughter tried to comfort you. I also love the idea of connecting your stories to readers in ways that matter. Kudos to you for turning a banana peel into a fully ripe fruit!

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  10. One of the BEST stories in all of Elizabeth's wonderful series. I'm with you, Meg - does sitting at a table for a couple hours REALLY do much for an author OR the kids you want to reach. I wouldn't know from personal experience, but I'm guessing no. I LOVE the project you devised for the launch, and the amount of time and effort you put into it. Kudos to you and your books -- here's to many more!

    Thanks for the inspiration, ladies!

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  11. A touching post and so beautifully written. Thanks for sharing ladies.

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  12. Just checked back after a much-needed family vacation. What a wonderful surprise to find the many sweet and supportive comments. Best wishes for minimal banana peels for all! XO Meg

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