50.3 – The Journeyman

I’ve had some coaching conversations as of late, and one of the things I’m still mulling is my mission/vision/purpose. I’m pretty clear on my talents, but I’m always looking to investigate my impact. I’ve spent many years cycling through a variety of thoughts and emotions about the work I’m doing or could have been doing, and so on. So it’s interesting that I came across two videos last week that struck dramatically different cords with me.

Colman Domingo at the 2024 Oscars. GEORGE PIMENTEL/SHUTTERSTOCK

One featured actor Colman Domingo. He has been doing deep and beautiful work for many years and this is truly his season. He had several huge projects all at once, and was nominated for an Oscar for his 2023 portrayal of political activist and Civil Rights leader, Bayard Rustin.

I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with Colman, long ago, and I have it on good authority that he’s still the sweet, genuine person he was then.

At the Oscars, Colman gave a red carpet interview with Laverne Cox wherein he described himself as a journeyman actor.

“I’m a journeyman actor – someone who’s just been dedicated to the craft of doing work that matters.”

~Colman Domingo

I looked up journeyman to confirm my understanding, that he was a person who was devoted to his craft, to toiling, to doing the work. That maybe he wouldn’t be the lead of Mission Impossible or a huge, commercial franchise, but he would do meaningful work and do it well.

A fellow children’s author who embodies this for me is Nikki Grimes. She has published or appeared in over 100 books and has won numerous awards (including a Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award!). For many people, she is not a household name. But if you follow her social media accounts, you will see her talking about yet another project she’s writing or editing or submitting for publication. Head down, toiling, creating good work.

Autor and Poet Nikki Grimes
Photo credit: Aaron Lemen

Journeyman. This is me. Sometimes I do wish for a little bit of breakout success as a new author. That maybe I’ll get paid higher advances, win awards, garner attention and signing lines at book festivals. But when I talk to kids or teachers or parents individually, they tell me how much my books (two published as of this writing) mean to them.

As I think about the project coming out later this year and the new one I’m conceiving now, I know they matter. I know they are meaningful contributions to the world of children’s literature. They will touch at least one heart and represent another step on my journey.

So I felt kinship with Colman and Nikki. And then I saw something completely different. I came across an author who ostensibly writes middle grade (for ages 8-12) as I do. I saw comments about how kids loved her books and based their description, I felt surprised and disappointed I hadn’t heard of them before. I wanted to know more about this author and about her books! So I looked her up.

In brief, I found her showcasing her children’s books in a way that highlighted them only as products. Commodities. She seemed so disconnected in fact, that I had the strong suspicion she didn’t write them at all. I soon discovered I was right. Her books were ghostwritten by someone else. I don’t have a problem with ghostwriters, as everyone involved consents to the arrangement. But I felt genuinely hurt at the portrayal of books for kids as lifestyle props for adults. I was sad! But it helped me understand myself better. Gave me another lens for viewing the work.

It clarified my reason for doing it at all. My books are not just for social media likes, to show the glamorous life of an author. Hint: writing middle grade books is real work, not glamor, lol! I write books about being true to yourself, to help kids become more fully human. To help them be more courageous, compassionate and wise. Some people write books to make kids smile, or think or learn something new. But as journeymen, we’re doing the work because that’s what matters.

MG Book Club at Tombolo

Yesterday I had the opportunity to join the monthly MG book club at Tombolo books. It was a small but engaged group and the members (all girls) had great questions and observations about The Many Fortunes of Maya.

I loved teaching 4th grade and one of my favorite things to do was having conversations about books. I do wish I had the presence of mind to ask them more questions (they were asking plenty of me), but I loved the discussion.

Color flyer showing the author holding copies of her book, while standing in front of a
Here’s the flyer from Tombolo!

I especially enjoyed asking the girls if they knew what a people pleaser was (Maya has some of those tendencies) and who she most wanted to please. Many of them surprised me by saying she wanted to please Ginger. As the author, my focus was showing Maya as wanting to please her dad, so the best friend angle caught me off guard.

I want to read it again – it’s been a while, ha! – and see if I can find the clues that make readers think Maya wants to please her best friend.

Have you read the Many Fortunes of Maya? Shameless plug, yes. Did you notice Maya’s people pleasing tendencies? Who did she want to please the most? What about you? Are you a people pleaser? Who do you want to please the most?

What to ask an author

Today, Tayari Jones is interviewing Khaled Hosseini, the author of Kite Runner. She’s been compiling and polishing questions to pose:

First of all, I love Tayari’s approach to life. I really enjoyed meeting her in person during the release of her novel, Silver Sparrow. She was vibrant and full of encouragement. I follow her musings and world traveling via social media, and I always find her updates authentic, thoughtful, or inspiring.

The tweets above are no exception.  She realizes Hosseini may be tired from a long flight, and she concedes the participants may not want to hear the standard questions asked of authors in general, or of this author in particular. I appreciate her open-minded, open-hearted approach to frame this experience for all involved.

I responded to Tayari on Twitter and FB. Here are a few questions I’d want an author to discuss:

  • Talk about your writing journey. Not just professionally, but personally. How/why did you begin writing?
  • You’re best known for {insert topic or genre here}. What other {topic or genre} would you be willing to tackle? Why?
  • What’s the dream project you’d love to write? (But maybe you haven’t b/c of time, expertise, doubt, etc.).
  • Do you ever have to balance writing authentically vs. writing for commercial success? If so, how do you navigate that? In other words, do you find yourself writing for the audience, more than  self?
  • Regarding an author’s favorite piece: What makes this piece your favorite? What do you hope readers will take from this work?
  • Especially of fiction writers: What is the writer’s role in today’s society?
  • Especially for seasoned writers: How has your approach to writing changed as your life circumstances have changed?

That’s my list! If you could pose any question to an author, what would you ask?