Sunday, September 25, 2011

Book Cover Blues

My publisher claims to be committed to working with me to produce a cover image for my book that I like, or at least that I can live with. But this is turning out to be more of a challenge than either of us bargained for. And it is causing me a great deal of stress. I think I am being clear about my thoughts on the cover image and then they forward to me a new version that still does not address my issues with the image. I am wondering where the short circuit is here. I finally wrote directly to the cover designer, for the first time, in an email yesterday. Previously, I was depending on my contacts at the publisher to convey my thoughts. Hopefully this will work and the designer will make the desired adjustments. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable. See what you think. There are two huge issues that I am having with the present version.

The first issue is that there are images of two women, one in the foreground and one in the distance, seen from the back and they have straight hair. I keep asking for them to have curly hair. Straight hair doesn’t work. My book is about Jewish women, and granted there are many Jewish women with straight hair; but it is the Jewish women with curly hair who are ridiculed, made to feel inferior in appearance, and viewed in negative stereotypic ways by the dominant culture. For me, seeing straight hair on these women feels like if I wrote a book with all Black characters and then the publisher put a picture of a white woman on the front cover. When I attempted to discuss the cultural significance for me of curly hair on the women in the cover image, the publisher attempted to make me feel like I was concerned with an abnormal level of detail. The women in the book are described as having curly hair. The publisher, a white guy, not Jewish, told me not to be so literal. Huh? I find this disturbing. I thought I had made myself clear, and that he would convey to the book designer the need for this change. But it didn’t happen. In my opinion, the straight hair makes it look like the book designer never read the book (although the publisher swears to me that she did).

The other issue that I have with the cover image is that there is a tree on it that does not resemble any real fruit tree that I have ever seen. If there is a fruit tree on the cover, and I like the placement of the tree and the fact that there is a tree at all, but if there is a fruit tree, it should have the shape of a real fruit tree. It is triangular, with the small point of the triangle at the top. No one in their right mind would prune a fruit tree like this tree and I can’t imagine one growing that way in nature. A few weeks ago I offered to send images of fruit trees to the cover designer and the publisher said, no, no, we’ll take care of it. But that sorry tree has not changed one iota since. I finally sent images of apple trees and cherry trees to the cover designer, explaining that with just one glance, she will get what I mean about the problem with the shape. Additionally, it is a pretty sorry tree. Trees are such exquisite creatures and they play such a significant role as a symbol in the book, I would think that the cover designer could put some energy into producing an image of a fruit tree that would be beautiful. As a gardener, who has lived with and cared for fruit trees for close to 30 years, I think it is not too much to ask to be given at least a believable fruit tree on the cover of my book (if not a beautiful one).

Sorry for the rant, but this is what is on my mind today. I had to say it. I hope I am heard by the book cover designer and not shuffled aside as being unreasonable.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Little Kindness

This past week I received a welcome kindness and also experienced having someone else work hard on my behalf. It reminds me of what we humans are capable of doing together when we support each other and help each other through the difficulties that life presents. Sometimes it seems as though the world is full of thoughtless people who can’t bring themselves to be kind to others. I remember one time when I accidentally cut someone off for a parking space in a parking lot. She made lewd gestures at me and I could read her lips forming swear words. I immediately pulled out of the parking space and motioned to her to take it. I had been in the wrong and felt bad. I waited for her to emerge from the armor of her car and I walked over to her and apologized. She was as sweet as could be, understanding, the opposite of the demon I had witnessed in her car. It befuddles me how people can be so nasty when distanced by being inside a car.

On Tuesday, my contact at my publisher, Liz, went to bat for me in the annual marketing meeting with the sales reps for the spring titles. On the phone with her and the publisher himself, I heard the news that she had pitched my book to the sales reps with such enthusiasm that they had all pre-ordered more copies than was expected. Every one of them, which the publisher said rarely happens. Consequently, the publisher has now increased the number of copies in the first printing and, more than that, Liz is beginning to generate some pre-pub buzz for the book. Liz has been very patient with me as a rookie author, and I am grateful to her for her faith in me and my book. We have settled on a title finally, we are sticking with Memories from Cherry Harvest. I am working harder than I have ever worked in my life re-editing to respond to the suggestions of the developmental editor.

The other kindness that I received this week came as a big surprise. As Ron and I come down the home stretch, with our last child having only two more years of college, we are struggling financially. I am going to have to be vague here, because I need to protect the person who did me the kindness. I paid a visit to a medical professional who has been seeing me for many years. I needed to have some medical care that I couldn’t afford and she provided it to me without letting anyone else in the office know, without allowing it to appear on the record or notifying our insurance carrier (who would not have paid for it for reasons too complicated to go into). She has children at home and I gave her a copy of The Call to Shakabaz for them to show my gratitude for her compassion for me and my situation. We humans have such potential for good. I choose to put my faith in that.

Before signing off for this week, I want to remind all you maties out there that tomorrow is Dave Barry’s official Talk Like a Pirate Day. I hope you will do your part with a few avasts and ahoys sprinkled in your vocabulary.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bringing Peaches for 9/11

It has been ten years since 9/11, the event that has shaped the worldview of my children’s generation in the same way that the Kennedy and King assassinations shaped the worldview of mine. I wrote the following in 2001 to come to terms with the tragedy of the Twin Towers and Flight 93. I still believe every word of it now, ten years later.

As a lifelong pacifist, I believe that retaliation is never the answer. Retaliation is the problem and justice is the answer. We of the U.S. must face up to the consequences of our actions in the world and understand that we are not immune to large-scale tragedy. If nothing else, this was the mighty lesson of 9/11. We must understand that the family members of those we have murdered in other lands, for whatever reason, lofty or not, might hold a valid grudge. We must accept that we are vulnerable to their rage. Will Americans ever understand that our safety and security at home depends on the safety and security of the rest of the world? ALL the rest of the world? We are in this together.

On the evening of September 11, 2001, I received an email from my friend Sue. She wanted to connect with her friends around the country. She told us that in the wake of the terrorist attacks within our borders, she was at a loss for what to do. She took some peaches from her peach tree to a neighbor. While walking to the neighbor’s house with the peaches, she resolved to engage in acts of kindness with a new dedication. She decided this would be her way of responding to the inhumanity that threatens to engulf us. The significance of Sue’s choice of action is not lost on me, a Jew, whose family would not be alive today if not for the simple acts of kindness committed by ordinary people struggling to remain human and caring in extraordinarily inhuman and brutal circumstances. In the broader vision of history, many of these simple acts of kindness are recognized as heroism. Thus, in the post-9/11 world, we must act bravely by holding fast to the moral value of caring for others. We must hold fast to the value of love.

It is not so difficult to love our families, our own children. It is far more difficult to love the stranger, the other, those not like us whose values and perceptions differ from ours. I do not believe that people are fundamentally the same. As long as we think that people are fundamentally the same, then racism, injustice, war, and terrorist acts will continue. People are different and that difference is the essence of the richness, the wonder of humankind. That difference is our greatest resource, our greatest challenge, and the gem that we must chisel from our rough perception. Rather than forcing similarity where it doesn’t exist, we must take that terrifying step of trying to walk in someone else’s shoes, of making the effort to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Terrifying because we risk transformation. We risk being deeply and irrevocably changed by what we learn from this experience.

Unlearning racism is not the same as tolerance. Tolerance is putting up with the mystifying actions of someone different from oneself. Tolerance is a fragile veneer. Unlearning racism is about opening our hearts to the possibility that there are beliefs not our own that have value and that our personal view of the world and our view of life is not the one and only right one, the only truth. There are many truths. A Buddhist monk once told me that being a good Jew was being a good Buddhist in his worldview. Unfortunately for us struggling humans, oftentimes different truths are in conflict with each other. If we truly wish to see justice and peace prevail in the world, then we must accept that our personal truths constitute only one perception out of a multitude of perceptions, and that right and wrong may not be as straightforward as we would wish. My fundamental truths and values may differ considerably from those of someone else, in fact, they may contradict each other. Who has the vision or the right to determine which of our truths or values is better or more accurate or correct? We have to live with that and find a way to avoid fighting about it. We have to be big enough, wise enough, brave enough, compassionate enough, and caring enough to learn from each other and to permanently change each other.

In short, we must all show the bravery of heroes. We must take each other peaches from our trees. We must listen, question, strive to understand, listen to the words of the voice and the words of the heart. Listen without fear of transformation, confusion, and doubt. Listen to hear more than one truth. Listen as if our lives depended on it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Labor Day Weekend

This week marks 20 years since we moved to the Ranch in Mendocino County. We left our 40 acres of forest over 3 years ago. I still miss it and not a day goes by that I don’t remember with affection some aspect of that place and the time I spent there raising my children. On that day in August 1991 that we moved from Berkeley to the Ranch, I was 7 months pregnant with Sudi, Akili was 4, and Yael was 7. We had not seen the property since May, before we managed to sell our Berkeley duplex. Ron had driven up earlier in the day in his van and I turned off 101 in my little green Honda hatchback with the children bouncing excitedly in their seats during the early afternoon.

As we wound our way uphill on the dirt road, we became engulfed in dust and I suddenly realized that something large was ahead of us on the dirt road to have kicked up all that dust. It had to be our moving van! Sure enough, as we drove the last piece of road to the top of the driveway, we encountered the moving van cautiously crawling ahead in front of us. The children were much too excited to sit in the car and they got out and passed the van on our driveway and ran down to the house where Ron was already surveying our gorgeous parcel with satisfaction and plotting what he would do there.

Our friends Maggie and Linda arrived soon afterward to help us unpack. The movers were unloading for the rest of the day. Then came that fateful first night in the new home when we listened to the chirpy insects kick up a holy racket outside our window and Ron turned to me and asked that now-famous question “Where the heck are we?”

In October of our first year in the house, we hosted a camp-out and invited our Bay Area friends up for a weekend. That weekend was the first annual gathering, which was moved to Labor Day Weekend in our second year at the Ranch and has become a family institution. Once upon a time, Sudi overheard me mention to a friend that she should join us over Labor Day. She asked “what’s Labor Day?” Sudi’s eyes widened and he said in astonishment, “You don’t know about Labor Day?” It was as if someone had confessed to not knowing about Christmas. Every year we hosted a camp-out on the property over Labor Day Weekend. In the early years, we sometimes had as many as 30 people in tents, with lots of children running in a pack around the house at all hours.

Those abundant years of tent cities on our property are well behind us, and out-of-town guests are few for the weekend event these days. But we still host a potluck BBQ and open house on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend each year, and this year was no exception. I am still enjoying the company of friends Jessica, Sylvia, and Gayla (with her husband and baby girl along). There is no excuse needed for an evening of gathering friends together, delicious food, good music, laughter, and reaffirmation of the good life we live in Mendocino County. Another day in paradise.