Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Bitter Pill to Swallow, 5 years later

As I wrote in my art book/memoir, The Sum of Its Parts, 2016 is a year that will live on in infamy, though at the beginning of the year, I was feeling pretty optimistic because that was the year I published the YA novel I had worked on for many years, A Bitter Pill to Swallow. Five years ago today, I uploaded the final version of my book to be published after a long and stressful process that involved numerous rejections and disappointments. In the months leading up to publication, I tried to stay hopeful, but all around there were signs that the political situation in the United States was becoming more and more dire. As the months leading up to the election passed, the horrible man who would eventually become our horrible president was beginning to take up all the space in the discourse about just about everything, it seemed. And I was trying to promote my debut novel in spite of him. 



Those worlds collided March 11th, which was both the day of my opening reception/book signing and also the day Chicagoans ran a certain candidate's hate rally out of town. (If anyone missed the reception because they were at the protest, I completely support that, by the way.) Since this is inauguration day, I can't help but think about this. And sometimes I also wonder if things would have been different had I published at a time when people's attention wasn't so consumed by the election. 

Still, I am grateful that I was able to find bloggers who were enthusiastic about reviewing my book, and that I won a 2016 Chicago Writers Association's Book of the Year award for it as well. And 2016 was also the year that the Book Expo of America was at McCormick place, so I had the opportunity to have my book on display in one of the booths and also attend the expo and network there. Publishing my book myself opened up opportunities to speak on and moderate panels and meet a community of authors and booksellers I would never have met before. Illustrating my own book covers led to illustration projects for other authors, and I have been able to parlay my book layout experience into projects as well.

I also think that the political turmoil of this era led to more discussions about diversity in publishing. Though it still doesn't reflect the diversity of the population, the roster of books published about African-American teens has increased since 2016. And I would also like to mention that though it helped launch and support new traditionally published authors, I felt like the movement for diverse books left independent authors on the sidelines.

At the time that I was working on my book cover designs in the previous year, there weren't many Black characters on YA book covers. That's changed a lot now, and I'd like to think that I was at the forefront of that change.

Five years later, there are still a few milestones I had hoped to reach but still haven't yet. Hopefully one day I will finally be able to afford to record an audiobook edition. And I still don't have my book in as many libraries as I would like. In fact, one of my goals last year was to get a booth at the American Library Association's annual conference because it was supposed to be here in Chicago, but was canceled due to the pandemic. But in spite of these things, I'm glad I published my book when I did because I'm not sure how well I would have been able to concentrate on writing it had I attempted to do so during the past four tumultuous years. And though one reviewer described my antagonists as "cartoonish," perhaps now they might seem more realistic after we have have had to endure four years of a cartoon villain in the White House.

Though my book is now five years old—ancient by industry standards, I know—because it's set in the 1990s, in some ways it was always "old" to begin with. But it's still new to all the readers who don't know about it yet, and that gives me a reason to keep promoting it. So what that means is that I'm still open to doing interviews about it and giving free ebook copies to reviewers, and of course, virtual classroom visits.

Here are all my posts about A Bitter Pill to Swallow:


A nice place to write a story


Judging books by their covers and learning from them

Book Cover Design, Part 2

The Other Doll Project, Part 1

Book Cover Design Part 3 - Back Covers Need Love, Too

My new stores for A Bitter Pill to Swallow

And here are the podcast interviews I did:

Open Ended, Episode 74, "Petty or Not"

Shelf Addiction, Episode 35, "Diversity in YA with Featured Author Tiffany Gholar"


The official site for A Bitter Pill to Swallow is here:

If you're looking for something to read, check it out.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The inevitable was bound to happen

Triumph of Fear, a painting by Sandow Birk from 2016, proved to be a harbinger of things to come.

I'm not a patriot. I don't feel a sense of ownership or belonging when it comes to my citizenship in the United States. I've always felt like an outcast. I've always felt disregarded, disrespected and dismissed by the powers that be. I've never let myself get emotionally attached.
Why would I ever feel loyal to a place that treats people like me like this, or this?
I consider myself a citizen of planet Earth, a member of an international Black diaspora, a part of the global community of artists. And America is just where I tell people I'm from on the very rare occasions when I'm abroad. I don't feel any particular connection to America or any love for this country. I just live here.
I wasn't sad to see what the crowds who descended on the Capitol did last Wednesday. Its halls aren't sacred to me. I wasn't shocked to see the angry mob gathering. I wasn't surprised. What happened last Wednesday was inevitable. The plot was set in motion when a spray-tanned con man descended his golden escalator and dragged us all into the abyss. The subtext became the text of his American Carnage inaugural address. And last Wednesday was the day when Checkov's gun was fired.

As the siege began, I felt numb. I only began to feel sadness and anger when I considered how peaceful protestors had been treated so violently last summer, and in the early days of Black Lives Matter (and every day in between), and the disabled activists yanked from their wheelchairs, and the brutality visited upon the water protectors at Standing Rock, and the casual pepper spraying of Occupy activists, and the intimidation tactics used against high school students imploring their representatives to do something about gun violence. As someone who was enraged about the actual stolen elections in 2000 and 2016 and disappointed that so little was done about them, I couldn't help but indulge in imagining what it would look like if leftists were the ones to descend on the Capitol en masse. And I think the protests would have been nonviolent, probably sit-ins, but the reaction to them would have been extremely violent. We never would have made it inside the building. And why? Because of the challenge to the status quo. Things are very different when the protestors are wealthy and fighting for the status quo to stay that way. Things are very different when law enforcement is working in harmony with the coup. Journalists were maimed by aggressive police who targeted them last summer while they were simply reporting on peaceful protests; last Wednesday some of the officers seemed to be letting the hordes of intruders into the building when they weren't pausing to take pictures with them.

Watching them was like watching a movie. I even made popcorn at one point. What kept me glued to my TV screen was witnessing the restraint shown to invaders brandishing actual restraints, plus weapons and blatant symbols of hate groups, and the apparent nonchalance toward people who authorities would later discover had brought explosive and incendiary devices with them, and even a gallows. 


Of course, they didn't have the same rapport with the Black officers who were there because "blue lives matter" is fundamentally opposed to Blackness. What did surprise me was that no one stopped them from getting inside the building in the first place. With all the security theater we've been forced to live with since 9/11, I had expected the Capitol to be more secure. 

The Capitol, the place where for generations decisions have been made that left countless American citizens dead, diseased, poisoned, wounded, widowed, orphaned, traumatized, indebted, exploited, uninsured, underpaid, unheard, impoverished, imprisoned, stranded, enslaved, excluded, disenfranchised, unprotected, uneducated, and homeless; the place where decisions were made that have left so many dead around the world because of unjust wars, imperialism, corporate greed, disregard for climate change, and American arrogance. A place where sometimes the will of the people goes to die because it is at odds with what lobbyists want. A place where sometimes legislators have done the right thing, despite the inherent sleaze, grift, corruption, backroom deals, horse trading, and horrible compromises endemic to the American political system. A temple to the ideals America rarely lives up to, built by people whose lives were destroyed by slavery. But it was targeted last Wednesday not in the interest of any demands for justice or reform, but in an effort to make it the stronghold of a strongman's hateful minions who want to take "their country" back from the rest of us.

Once the mob got inside the Capitol, I was worried about the legislators inside the building. But at the same time, I felt their leadership had brought this crisis upon themselves. Some of them supported the rioters in word and deed and gesture. 
Josh Hawley saluting the crowd that would later invade the Capitol


And too many others spent the past 4 years trying to work with a tyrant as if he was an ordinary politician, as if they could reason with an unreasonable man, as if authoritarianism can simply be voted out, as if elections are automatically guaranteed to be free and fair just because of the American flag. And all along they ignored the warnings of experts and seemed to distance themselves from their own members whenever they spoke out about the dictator-in-chief. What happened last Wednesday was the consequence of their hubris. The Republicans who supported the illegitimate president throughout his reign of terror, encouraged their constituents to "stop the steal" since the 2020 election began, and refused to do anything meaningful to stop him are complicit. And so are the leading Democrats whose default position of acquiescence and an avoidance of confrontation (offset by a few meaningless gestures expressing their displeasure) did nothing to slow the momentum that built up to the January 6 coup attempt. 
What was this supposed to do?

And isn't it weird that social media companies shut off one of his primary sources of narcissistic supply before any legislators did (even though it took them forever)?


This is supposed to be a democracy, not a monarchy.  So it's the people's house, the people's furniture, the people's artwork, bought with our tax dollars. It should be obvious that doesn't give anyone the right to use legislative chambers as their personal chamber pot, but that didn't prevent their disgusting acts of defiance. Besides evidence of having no home training, there's a psychoanalytical symbolism in that act, and possibly traces of coronavirus, and definitely traces of DNA that can help identify whoever did that.

They claimed to be patriotic, yet they stormed into the halls of Congress like a band of marauding pirates. They're the types who use photos of ancient Roman statues as their avatars and Latin usernames when they're on social media, but they acted like pillaging Visigoths
Before you laugh, consider his white nationalist tattoos.



There was so much destruction left in their wake. And who is left to clean up the mess they made?


Now, in the aftermath, pundits, politicians, and the President-elect have the clueless audacity to proclaim "this is not who we are" again and again as if repeating that lie will make it true. Useless talking heads on cable news have asked why the police were "unprepared" that day, not willing to see the obvious collusion or connect the dots between a well-documented increase in law enforcement agencies being infiltrated by members of hate groups and the current administration's gutting of the agency that used to fight against domestic terrorism. Another bullet in Checkov's gun. 

Even the language used to condemn the white supremacists is problematic (a "black mark?" A "dark day?") 


I am so angry about the meaningless gestures of forced forgiveness, the insult to injury in the goal of "coming together" with people who want me dead. (And want anyone who disagrees with their bizarrely conspiracy theory informed worldview dead as well!) 
Can we not?

I can't stand to hear any more false equivalencies between "both sides" the media has been promoting since 2016, giving the made-up excuse of "economic anxiety" as the dictator's supporters' primary motivation. I'm sick of the pleas to consider the "forgotten Americans" who tried to take over last week. How are they forgotten when reporters haven't stopped interviewing them in diners for the past 5 years? Who could be more forgotten than those of us who can't even assert that our lives matter without people screaming at us for saying so? The dictator's supporters are given psychological profiles and sympathetic backstories while our motives are treated as though they are as unknowable as the behavior of wild animals. 

I'm also mad that last Wednesday's madness overshadowed the historic Georgia election. And that more people were arrested for protesting the unjust verdict (not guilty) in the trial of the policeman who shot Jacob Blake on that day than were arrested for the coup attempt. Not to mention that it happened in the middle of an ongoing pandemic, on a day when the death toll was climbing even higher.

Seeing the pictures coming in from the individual rioters was also infuriating. There's something about the glee on their faces that echoes the expressions of the faces of lynch mobs 100 years ago. 

It's the self-satisfied smile of a woman who believes that she'll never get caught, and certainly won't face any repercussions if she does. Look how proud they are in the shirts they designed just for the occasion.

How they reveled in the festive melee, live-streaming their rampage on social media for their followers. Some of them were wandering around like tourists at first. They were responding to their leader's invitation to march to the Capitol. All that was missing was him opening up the White House for a raucous celebration, kind of like the one after his idol Andrew Jackson's inauguration.
You don't want to meet your adoring public face to face? You're not throwing them an after party at your place?

As the chaos continued, their father figure appeared in a video, telling them he loves them and they're very special. He told them the go back home while still emphasizing that the election was stolen from him. I should note that he was an absentee father figure, because although he blustered about marching with the crowd to the Capitol, up until that point he had been nowhere to be found.

And then law enforcement played a fun game with them, giving them a 24 hour head start before announcing the manhunt. Their escape was abetted by the airlines that ignored the pleas of flight attendant unions to keep them off their planes. The arrests of the most visible rioters seem symbolic.  So many of the perpetrators are still at large, and they're not just buffoons incapable of climbing walls. 



There were plenty of militia members in the horde. And I'm sure some of them have used the stealth they learned from their military and law enforcement training and have likely returned to their communities undetected and unsuspected. What they were able to accomplish has only emboldened them and taught them strategies they can use to plan their next coup attempt. 

But sure, let's reconcile with these abusive people. Let's let bygones be bygones. Let's ignore the fact that this attack was planned out in the open on social media where everyone could see it, and that there were coordinated attacks the same day at state capital buildings.

There seemed to be a troubling lack of both situational awareness and self-preservation in the response by the legislators to resume the day's proceedings but delay and delay and delay any punishment for those who incited the attempted coup, both in their midst and in the White House.They could have been assassinated or held hostage, their offices were ransacked and papers were stolen, yet something about their reaction reminded me of the band on the Titanic, resigned to their fate. Some seemed too hamstrung by precedents, procedures and traditions to take swift action. Others had to face the monster they created, still unwilling to do anything about it. Maybe they were still dazed by what had just happened to them, but it seemed bizarre and incongruous to me in some ways. And it wasn't lost on me that things would be very different if the electoral college had been abolished and Washington, D.C. had statehood, but those two issues always seem to be put on the back burner or deemed unreasonable or unrealistic. It should be apparent now that both initiatives are overdue. And now the 11th hour impeachment on the horizon, like Twitter's long-delayed account suspension, feels like too little too late.

Last Wednesday was a day of irony, double standards, and hypocrisy. Its events revealed America's continued refusal to reckon with reality. Last Wednesday was a mirror. And America might finally see just how ugly it truly is when it looks in it. Yes, America, this is what you've always been.

This is the inevitable outcome of a culture that believes its own hype and refuses to do better, too high on its own affirmations and platitudes about its supposed exceptionalism to accept any critiques, no matter how valid or urgent. It could become the kind of country it thinks it is and claims to be if only it would face the truth about itself for once. As James Baldwin said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
This is the inevitable outcome when a man who seems to have no conscience faces no consequences for his entire life, not even when occupying the highest office in the country. There is something anticlimactic about chickens coming home to roost. The inevitable was bound to happen.



Friday, January 1, 2021

10 things turning 10 this year

The bleakness of the weather and my personal life led me to hibernate for the winter. My hibernation entailed coming straight home after work to exercise, cook, and read. I saved my studio time for the weekends. When 2011 began, I was afraid to dream, and I didn't want to want anything anymore. Wanting things would only lead to disappointment.
(from Imperfect Things)


I'd rather not even bother looking back at 2020. I almost wrote a retrospective about it, but decided not to. Why dredge up so much misery? Instead, I'm looking back 10 years ago to 2011, a year that I began by deliberately setting no particular goals other than the aforementioned plan of self-imposed winter hibernation. Interestingly, I was able to accomplish a great deal in 2011, not by setting lofty goals for myself, but by just taking things a day at a time. And I think that hibernation period was good preparation for my current social distancing hermitage. Here are 10 things turning 10 this year, in no particular order:


1. My artist statement for Post-Consumerism  

2011 was when I finally came up with an artist statement about Post-Consumerism that I found satisfactory. Here's my blog post about it.

2. Verdant 

Verdant still reminds me of ripe avocados.

3. Fall in Love With Art


2011 was the year I had my very first Fall in Love with Art event at my studio for Valentine's Day. A serendipitous discovery of a beautiful Black Barbie doll wearing a dress covered in red lipstick kisses (while wandering the aisles at Target) inspired me to create a photo series showcasing miniature artwork with a Valentine's Day theme.


4. Ruby Horizon


My second commissioned painting, Ruby Horizon, was made for my cousin's home.


5. Weeping May Endure for a Night 

 The final painting of the Dark Night of the Soul series.

6. Mod Era Doll Project Photos

 2011 was when I started to extend the timeline of The Doll Project series.


7. Composition in Primaries 

 Composition in Primaries was my first multicolor Post-Consumerist painting.


8. Frozen Bride 

 A visual depiction of what being in a long engagement can feel like.

9. Flower Power Collage


I made this collage in the spring of 2011 when my outlook on life was improving. There's no blog post about it, but it is available in my Zazzle store on variety of products.

10. Cerulean Rhapsody

Cerulean Rhapsody is still my biggest painting, made from the box my easel was shipped in, inspired by the color of my laptop (which is also turning 10 this year!). 

Finally, here's something turning 5 this year: my young adult novel, A Bitter Pill to Swallow. I published the final version January 20th, 2016. 



Looking back at 2011 helps me as I look forward in 2021. And hopefully this year will be better for all of us.

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