Wishing on a Star
Between 2003 and 2021, I had five books published by traditional presses — a collection of short stories by Latinx authors that I edited, an adult novel, two YA novels that were companions, and an upper middle grade novel. The adult novel received zero major trade reviews, a combination of being from a small press and a snafu at the galley printer that led to the marketing department missing several publications’ deadlines. The short story collection received one, typical in those days for a story collection aimed at the education market. The upper MG garnered some rather harsh reviews, and the YA that followed it didn’t get many reviews. Despite its small press origins, Gringolandia received five major trade reviews, all glowing, and multiple distinctions and awards.
What it never received from these trade journals was a coveted star, an indication of both quality and significance of a book. Nor did any of the other four books.
Not having a starred review among my many books was probably the most discouraging thing I experienced in the early stages of my career. A member of one of my critique groups told me that I needed to write books that connected emotionally with my readers. Being autistic, and struggling to connect with people in real life, I wondered if I was capable of writing on that level. Maybe I should pull back, I thought, write for the education market and translate books by authors in other countries whose books had made that emotional connection. In fact, my very first translation, The World in a Second, won a star from Kirkus and a spot on their end-of-year best books list. Later on, my translation of The President of the Jungle, would also receive a Kirkus star.
While starred reviews don’t necessarily translate to book sales, I always believed that they point to the skill of the author. Authors and books I admire seem to be magnets for stars. They earned those stars! My work seemed second best, like getting a B or a C. For this A student, it was a hard adjustment to realize I’d fallen short, that my best just wasn’t good enough. But rather than giving up permanently, I did take the step back. I worked on my craft. I teamed up with better writers and learned from them, the way an ambitious tennis player seeks out matches with champions. It was hard to stay motivated through failed manuscripts and learning new forms of storytelling that pushed me out of my comfort zone. But I could sense the growth in my work, and that kept me going.
This past week, my years of trying new things, taking classes, and working with better writers paid off. The first two reviews for Moonwalking have appeared and they are both…starred reviews! Or as JJ, the C student, says when his teacher lays his graded social studies project face-down on his desk, and he slowly peers at it, “My first A+ ever!”
The Kirkus and Booklist stars, and quotes from the reviews, are already on my page for Moonwalking. I am grateful to my co-author Zetta Elliott, the literary equivalent of the champion tennis player, and to our editor, Grace Kendall, who helped us turn our disparate poems into a well-paced story. (I have a lot of bonus content, poems given up in service to the pacing.) As with JJ, this success gives me even more confidence moving forward, as I explore new ideas and the best ways to express them.