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I wrote a novel?
When I encounter people who have known me, say, forever, and I haven't seen them, in like, forever, we ask each other questions about life events. "What have you been up to?" "So what are you doing these days?"
My response now includes that I have written a book. It seems fair enough to mention since it took a fair amount of time and effort on my part. I believe it represents a serious effort on a serious topic. I am proud of it. I love the bright orange cover and hope that people do indeed judge my book by its cover. I could stress how much I like napping in the sun porch alongside the snoring dogs most afternoons of my retirement. However, the book seems more of an accomplishment.
It strikes me oddly that so often I am met with a dutiful but doubtful question, usually repeated two to three times. "You wrote a book?" "You wrote a book?" "You wrote a what, a book?" The stress, pitch, and juncture of cadence in their speech varies, but there seems a distrust that borders on dread not unlike looking at putrid road-kill. "How did that happen?" They seem to want to say.
I have to admit then I sheepishly and briefly say that it's "about migrant workers in the dairy industry of New York State." Rather than go on about how happy my book makes me and my hopes that it is pleasurable and informative to readers, I drop the topic. Their regurgitated interrogation brings out all of my short-chubby-person insecurities which I do laugh off inwardly, mostly. Nevertheless, it makes me wonder. "Don't they think I'm smart enough, or tall enough, or thin enough, or clever enough, or whatever enough to write a book?" Can't be I make much of an impression on people.
Surely I hope that I present myself better electronically from the distant, clandestine location of my messy den where all of the magical creative efforts take place. I did write a novel and it has combined life experiences, interests, education, all the stuff that is me.
Waiting to get my hands on that first copy brought out all of the crabbiness in my character. "When would it get here?" Finally, tracking it with the stealth of international espionage, I stalked and ambushed the UPS guy in a grocery store parking lot rather than wait one minute more to get my hands on the boxes of books. Though smiling, he seemed skittish about how I pasted myself to his side on that hot July afternoon until the boxes were deposited in my car.
I extracted my first copy within seconds and cradled it as I had my sons when they were infants. I let that first copy ride in my lap all the way home. I carried it to and fro, no matter where I went. Self-publishing includes self-promoting and I beamed my way along for months. Alas, now I have taken to peppering friends and acquaintances more subtly with business cards, also bright orange.
Teaching and advocating for migrant workers has enabled me to glean from various life experiences: farming, teaching, and now writing. When I began my work with the migrant population, I had no idea that it would lead to writing this novel, Another Day, Otro Día. I hope this book does some good for migrant workers. I am thankful for the opportunity to meet and learn from migrant workers. How we treat each other, particularly those who cultivate our food, is important.
After carrying around notebook after notebook, making scribbles of thoughts, wondering if it would ever come together, I faced up to the reality that art, of any kind, is 97% perspiration and only 3% inspiration. I guess I was thinking I'd awake one day and find that the notes had magically melded into a coherent piece of fiction. Not at all!
The current election cycle and frequent news stories about migrant workers pushed me to do the long, painful hours of the writing a novel entails. Current speeches about rounding up undocumented workers and shipping them back to their home countries make me glad that I did complete this project. I know in my heart that I have earnestly tried to show how desperately the US needs visa/immigration reform. Speaking only of the dairy industry, I would stress that we would have many an empty dairy aisle in our grocery stores if migrant workers weren't here to milk cows.
As a migrant educator/advocate, I do have the privilege of getting to know many migrant workers. Please believe me when I say that I have found them to be hard-working, honest people dedicated to doing their best and supporting their families through their sacrifices living here in the US. They are not a perfect people, nor, I would hasten to add, are we here in the US.
Two particularly sad events clinched my commitment to describe and expose the struggles faced by migrant workers.
One young migrant worker hurt his leg while riding on the front of a loader. His boss, or patrón, didn't take him for medical care for six days. Another worker on a different farm had to work for two weeks with a broken arm because his patrón wouldn't take him to the hospital. Migrant workers generally have no transportation. Events like these should not be happening in our contemporary United States.
Until my associations with migrant workers, I had no idea how they lived even within my own community. People who have read Another Day, Otro Día, tell me that they had no idea that migrant workers even existed in their neighborhoods.
I do have a background in agriculture, education, and writing. I am a life-long resident of upstate New York where I grew up on a dairy farm. This family farm is now used to raise a rare breed of cattle called Dexters.
I am a retired teacher, with over thirty years of experience on the high school level. For nearly a decade, I have worked in migrant education as an ESL teacher, and an educational and medical advocate for migrant workers and their families. Information for writing Another Day, Otro Día was compiled from stories I have heard from the many migrant workers with whom I have become acquainted.
In 2011, I visited families of migrants who had returned to Oaxaca, Mexico. While there I was fortunate to be taken into the mountains to see the pueblos where indigenous Mexicans have lived for centuries. My textbook Spanish did me little good while visiting mountain villages since all conversations were in Mixteco, the language of that particular region of Mexico.
My previous writing experience includes advertising, a weekly newspaper column "At Random", and feature articles for agricultural and independent-living magazines.
So, yes, I did write a novel. Now I'd like to share it with you.