When I was in the eighth grade, I fell hopelessly in love with a girl who sat two rows in front of me. She always spoke in a way that let me know she read books outside of school like I did. And because I knew how smart she was, I realized I couldn't approach her just any old way - I wanted to show my intelligence and poise as well. Or at the very least, I knew I needed to say hello without melting into my desk.
So, I went over what I was going to say in my head for days. I knew I wanted to work in that I read a lot and had started writing my own stuff, but then I thought she might ask to read some of it and that terrified me. So I kicked that idea from my mental Rolodex and decided to start from scratch.
Days turned into weeks until I finally put my foot down. I told myself I was going to say hello and ask for her phone number. I arrived early for first period and to my surprise, she was sitting alone, digging for something inside her backpack. I didn't think it would leave a good first impression to startle her by appearing suddenly when she was sitting alone in a room (plus, I still needed another moment to gather my thoughts). I walked into the nearest bathroom to wash my hands and took a few deep breaths. I told myself I would just say hello and go from there. It had only been about two minutes, but I already felt a lot more relaxed going into the conversation the second time around. I left out of the bathroom and walked back in to see her surrounded by three of her friends, chatting happily about some television show I had never heard of. Feeling like I'd lost my chance, I decided not to interrupt and walked past towards my desk. There was plenty of time left in the day, so I still had time to ask.
Second period was gym, so after I dressed out, she walked into the gymnasium with a good friend of mine. They were laughing and having a great time, which wasn't a total surprise because my friend was just as witty and interesting as I was. But I didn't want to disturb their conversation, so I just settled in my mind that I'd just go up to her at lunch. It made the most sense - the gymnasium wasn't the best setting for an intimate conversation and people were more social during a meal anyway.
But at lunch, she was nowhere to be found. I searched both exits and the courtyard to see if maybe she'd decided to eat outside, but still nothing. I didn't want to ask around and give off the suspicion that I was looking for her, but I wasn't sure what else to do. We had been near each other all morning and now that I was finally ready to ask for her number, she had disappeared. I decided to drown my sorrows in chocolate milk and a cardboard pepperoni pizza from the school cafeteria while I mulled over what to do next.
By the end of the day, every attempt at courting this young woman had been met with opposition and disappearances. Just 45 minutes remained in the day and I was determined to make them count. Time crawled by as the teacher lectured for the first twenty minutes, but then sped up as we were spread out into groups, inevitably setting me clear across the room from my muse. Before I knew it, there were just sixty seconds left in the day and it was now or never.
I told myself I could still catch her once the bell rang. At least if she said no, I could just run out of there and hop on the schoolbus.
The bell rang, I grabbed my bag and sprinted towards her desk, but an obstruction in a Yankees hat blocked the aisle and I couldn't fight my way though. Why did this keep happening?! By the time he moved out of the way, I checked her desk and she was already gone - I had lost her forever.
Or at least until tomorrow when I told myself I would arrive early again and make another attempt at attempting to ask.
But as you can probably guess, that didn't happen.
And that's how most people write first drafts. They have all the best intentions and tell themselves that one day they're going to sit down and ask that girl for her phone number. Or ask that girl to the prom. Or ask that guy on a date, but they never muster up the courage to actually stand up and say what they have to say.
In order to write a first draft, you simply have to put the words on the page. Don't worry about making everything sound perfect - that's what editing is for. Don't obsess over trying to find two hours to write everyday. Or even writing everyday. Start with ten minutes every Friday during your last break at work. And then just go from there.
The conditions are never going to be perfect. You're never going to find the perfect notebook or the perfect pen. You don't need a brand new computer first. You don't have to wait until next year. Use what you have and do what you can.
If you want to write to a book, you have to write a first draft. And to write a first draft, all you have to do is write.
Gregory Hedgepeth II is the founder of Vital Narrative Press. Garvey Hemisphere is his literary-inclined alter-ego. At least one of them wrote this.
Support his work below:
342 pp. A Collection of Echoes is the story of three strangers from Memphis as they begin group therapy for their various issues. Malone is still grieving the murder of his mentor while London is putting her life back together after a recent breakup. And Gavin is just trying to get by while dealing with the pressures of his career and his girlfriend who is adamant about getting engaged.
When I first started Vital Narrative Press, my bank account had $24 in it, I had been unemployed for two months and I was living on my grandmother's couch, trying to figure out how I was going to put my life back together.
As a lifelong writer, I had dreamed about starting my own publishing company for years and I knew there was a need for stories by people of color. But with no funds and no prospects, it was obvious the odds weren't in my favor. As the days marched by and my bank account continued to dwindle down to nothingness, I knew I had to take action. I asked myself what I had to lose, bought a domain, filed all the paperwork, created a website, and within a few weeks, Vital Narrative was born.
I had no idea what I was doing at first, but I knew if I took small steps each day and invested everything I could into the business, it would be a success. I took odd jobs and worked at temp services to finance the company while I spent the next several years researching the process, finding mentors, securing authors and learning the business. During our first year, we barely made any revenue, but we continued to make progress month-by-month and our growth steadily increased.
I managed to finance everything out of my own pocket and invested thousands of dollars to be the change I wanted to see within the industry. Some days it seemed like a lost cause and there have been plenty of times where I considered quitting to focus my attention on other things that wouldn't require nearly as much time, effort and money.
But the truth is, I fucking love this company. There are days where I spend eight hours at a desk job, just to come home and spend another eight hours or more working on various tasks that I know will benefit the future of the company. But it's worth it because every time I interact with my authors or our readers, I always come away feeling better - like I'm finally doing what I was put here to do. I know it's a cliche, but it usually doesn't feel like work and every day presents a new and exciting challenge.
I don't know if Vital Narrative Press will ever be a million-dollar company. And I won't feel like a failure if it doesn't. I didn't start this company just to make money - I wanted to invest in people who work hard, so I could help them build a platform and get their stories out to the world. And so far, I've done that... but there's still plenty of work left to do.
So on the days where I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders, I force myself to see things from that perspective. These authors took a chance on me, hoping I would enrich their writing careers and I'm still very much dedicated to making sure that happens.
It's humbling when I think about the progression we've made in such a short time. We literally started from the bottom, but three years later, we're still here.
I wanted to make sure that I gave thanks to every author on the roster, our readership and all of our supporters who helped make this dream come true. I hope you take time today to thank all those who helped support your dreams as well.
About a month after our third anniversary, I lost someone close to me and it took a while for me to get over. Coincidentally, she was incredibly vital to Vital Narrative since the very beginning and I would be remiss not to mention her contributions to the company. Her name was Panda, and back when I was still sleeping on my grandmother's couch, she allowed me to create and share my talents with the world.
That's because Panda was my 21-inch iMac computer and she was where every Vital Narrative document lived.
Unfortunately, old age caught up with her and despite my best efforts, she still ended up joining that old Apple graveyard in the sky. So after I grieved an appropriate amount of time, I found a suitable replacement named Simba and immediately got back to work.
If there was a silver lining to the whole ordeal, it was that everything had to be transferred over and it gave me a chance to go through our archives. I went on a wild trip down memory lane and came across some of our old logos from WAAAAAY back.
Looking at where we came from made me even prouder of what we've become and where we are headed in the future. But in doing that, I knew it was time for the company itself to evolve into something more representative of what's to come.
When we first began, the bear was the key element of our brand, meant to represent how multi-faceted people of color are despite mainstream media's obsession with pigeonholing our experiences.
Not long after Panda died, we posted this on our Facebook page:
To the casual observer, this was probably just another post - but it was really the mark of our new identity: we are the lions who learned to write.
With fake news running rampant these days, it's imperative that we write and share authentic experiences with the world. It's easy to complain about how we are portrayed in media, but now, more than ever, we have the ability to control these narratives.
The hunters have told tall tales of their journeys for centuries - but now that the lion has the pen, we have a duty to honor all that came before us.
We are the lions who learned to write - and writing is what we will do.
BY: T.J. LOVE
Black people are the most vilified, antagonized, unduly criticized people walking God’s green Earth. And I love my community, I honestly do. But we are not beyond reproach. There are many topics that are still taboo in the Black community because of deeply entrenched misogyny and the traditional need to “keep up appearances” in the street.
My grandmother used to tell my cousin and I, 'no matter what happens in this house, don’t let it spill outside.' Everyone doesn't need to know your family's business, so that may be fine for keeping certain internal conflicts from being exposed to the outside world, but when it applies to things like mental illness, homosexuality, etc., it’s suppressive and disabling.
As far as the burgeoning topic of gender identity and sexuality are concerned, we are still very oppressive towards our own because of the deep-seated hypermasculinity that pervades each and every level of our community and it is viscously damaging. AVP spokesperson Sue Yacka told The Daily Beast that of the 17 homicides of trans and gender-nonconforming people in 2017 the project has counted so far, 16 were people of color. Additionally, fifteen had been transgender women and thirteen had been Black transgender women. “This is that we know of,” said Yacka. “The figure may be much higher, due to misgendering and misnaming often by police and local media.” It appears that Black men are still afraid of being caught with trans women because of what they perceive their peers will think about them, conflating trans women as "men in women’s clothing." That perception is incredibly damaging and perpetrates violence against trans women.
We don’t afford trans women the same rights we give cisgender women because we still conflate genitalia for gender. Admittedly, I am unpacking the same damning concepts and misconstructions because of the socialization I’ve been exposed to all my life where masculinity is constantly being subjected to social cues and critiques, whether it be from family, music or relationships, our manhood is always co-opted by socialization.
So why wouldn’t I buck against gender identity? Shouldn't I be upset if I dated someone I thought was a cisgender woman, but was actually a transwoman - ain’t I 'gay' for that? My homies may turn on me, so shouldn't I hide the fact I ever did that? What will everyone think?
While I don’t excuse that mentality at all, I understand where it comes from. It takes a lot to undo the destructive, primal, chest-beating, psychosomatic reaffirmation of masculinity and what makes a man 'a man.' But rather than address those issues, it is significantly easier for many men to abandon all understanding and tolerance and simply be an asshole. But in being an asshole, the assertion that transfolk aren’t worth learning their identities and respecting them enough to address them as such, as well as not being antagonistic towards them is exactly the fight our community goes through. Yes, our discrimination is different systematically, but the origins are the same: 'I don’t value you as a human being therefore I don’t give a shit about who you are and what you stand for and I will dehumanize your existence at any opportunity that I get.' That is hypocritical.
We can’t exclaim that “Black lives matter,” but then exclude Black trans folk because they don’t fit in with our heteronormative concepts. We don’t need to demand that transfolk meet our comfortable sensibilities - we need to meet their humanity at the base level. It literally costs you nothing to respect pronouns and identities. You’re not subscribing to some sort of wicked agenda - you’re just being a decent human being.
I currently date a transwoman. She is 'genderfluid' meaning she identifies either as a woman or agender. Currently, her pronouns are “she/her" but a lot of genderfluid people identify as “they/them." She was afraid to come out to me because she felt like it might scare me off, which is the same fear a lot of transfolk probably feel.
They may wonder: is this person going to reject me?
Is this person going to hurt me?
Is this person going to kill me?
An interesting aspect of our relationship is the conversations we have about her identity and how she’s learning a lot about herself every day, which she imparts on me daily. We hit bumps in the road, because I’m still unpacking a lot of things myself. I’m learning how to unlearn all these aspects of toxic masculinity that have been dormant in me all my life. I still deal with little microaggressions that want to come out of my mouth and I have to censor myself a lot because I don’t want to be insensitive or unconsciously cruel. I still find myself on social media, speaking in trans spaces and stepping on toes by centering the conversation on me, but I realize how wrong that is. Sometimes, I find myself misgendering people and apologizing profusely for it, which is usually met with “don’t be sorry, be better." Initially, it hurt my fragile male ego to be told that, but I understand. How many times have we as black people had to defend our humanity to white people and how tiring does it get? It is just as exhausting for a trans person to constantly repeat “I identify as this, my pronouns are these, please learn them.”
After I let her know it was safe to come out to me and that she would never have any issues with me understanding and accepting who she was, I asked her what she deals with mentally, what goes on in the mind of a genderfluid person. Individually, sometimes she feels feminine, but most of the time, she feels like she’s genderless, neither masculine nor feminine. We talk often about trans-affective subjects and I’ve learned that although it’s often exhausting to keep asking researchable things, she enjoys educating me, a luxury a lot of heterosexual cisgender partners are not afforded.
I feel like it’s strengthened our bond even further. I’ve never dealt with a person quite like her and I feel privileged to know her, let alone be with her, in a world where she is targeted as a woman of color, as well as a member of the LGBT+ community. I feel like my role as an ally has increased and that makes me elated, because I genuinely care about her struggles, as well as the struggles of everyone else who has to deal with the stares and the aggressions and the violence and the condescension on social media and beyond. I stand for all oppressed people and believe in empowering the Black community with knowledge that will foster understanding, acceptance and tolerance.
We should all stand united, shoulder to shoulder, especially in these times where we all have targets firmly painted on our backs.
Through October 15, Our Voces will be featuring posts for Hispanic Heritage Month by highlighting Latinx and Hispanic kid lit authors. This past week they interviewed Darlene Campos to get her thoughts on various things. In the article, Campos spoke on the first time she saw herself represented in literature.
Campos also spoke on her first novel, Behind Mount Rushmore, her next project, Summer Camp Is Cancelled, and also, her hopeful future for Latinx books.
You read the full article here. Campos will also be giving donating 100% of her royalties to ongoing hurricane relief through October 15.
BY: DARLENE CAMPOS
Writing, like many careers, has its risks. There is no guarantee a writer will be a bestseller or have their story made into a movie. However, many writers did not go into this field for fame and money – they write because it is their passion. While writing carries its risks, it is not impossible to become a successful writer over time. Here are five writers who started from humbled beginnings.
You may know Cisneros from her novel The House on Mango Street. In addition to this novel, Cisneros is the author of many books as well as a past winner of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship and the Texas Medal of Arts. Cisneros’ childhood was not an easy one. She grew up in poverty, constantly relocated, and with six brothers, she often felt isolated in her own home. It was this isolation that led Cisneros to writing and she composed her first poem at just ten years old. When one of her high school teachers encouraged her to keep writing, Cisneros took the advice and was later admitted into the Iowa Writers Workshop. It was at this workshop that Cisneros discovered her writing voice. She is now considered one of the most influential writers of this generation.
Best known for his horror stories, Stephen King’s works have become synonymous with terror and fright. He is known for several novels including Carrie, It, and The Shining. Before King became the writer he is today, he had a difficult childhood. His father left the family when King was only two years old, making King’s mother the sole provider for him and his brother David. When King grew up, he was barely able to support himself and his wife Tabitha due to unemployment. He made some income by selling short stories to magazines, but it was not enough. It was around this time that King began drafting Carrie. He became so frustrated with the novel that he initially threw it away in the garbage, but Tabitha encouraged him to finish it. Carrie proved to be King’s big break, thanks to his wife!
Gabriel García Márquez
García Márquez is best known for his novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. However, like many writers, García Márquez’s past was a struggle. Before he started writing One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez had the idea for the novel, but he was unsure of how to write it down. One day, García Márquez was driving his wife and children to Acapulco for vacation, the first line popped into his head and he immediately turned the car around to head home and write the first draft. To make ends meet, García Márquez sold the family car and his wife Mercedes persuaded the local butcher, baker, and their landlord to grant them a line of credit until García Márquez finished his latest book. When One Hundred Years of Solitude was finally released, it became an international success and García Márquez officially became a respected voice in literature.
Morrison is a former winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. She is famous for her novel Song of Solomon. As a child, Morrison grew up in a difficult time. When she was around two years old, her family’s landlord set fire to their home since they had been unable to pay the rent, leaving them with nothing. Morrison’s father worked several odd jobs to support the family. Later in life, Morrison married and had two sons, but divorced soon after, leaving her to care for her two young sons all by herself. When she began writing her first novel, The Bluest Eye, she woke up each morning at 4 AM to write as her sons slept. It was Song of Solomon that gave Morrison her biggest acclaim, and with this, her writing career kicked off to a supreme start.
Octavia E. Butler
Butler is best known for her science fiction Patternist series and the Xenogenesis series. Before she became a writer, she too came from humbled beginnings. Her father died when she was only seven years old and she was raised by her mother and grandmother in a very strict household. Butler’s mother was a maid and sometimes she accompanied her to work where they witnessed and experienced racial segregation. Butler was also extremely shy and was diagnosed with dyslexia and often bullied at school. She took comfort in reading books and when she was ten years old, she begged her mother to buy her a typewriter so she could begin writing her own books. As an adult, Butler worked several jobs to support herself and woke up every morning at 2 AM to write before a long day of work. Butler would later win the MacArthur Fellowship, becoming the first science fiction writer in history to hold this award. She would go on to win many more awards for her influential science fiction works.
Yes, writing has its risks, but sometimes risks are worth taking. To writers who are just getting started, remember that you are just getting started and the future holds completed dreams. These five writers got their breakthroughs despite the odds and you can, too!
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Every time our authors do an interview, we learn something interesting about them. Posted today at Tuscon Tales, a children's and young adult literature publication showcasing new and established writers, Darlene Campos revealed that 'Behind Mount Rushmore' was rejected 122 times.
But she continued to submit her book for publication and encourages other writers to do the same.
She also recognized the importance of pushing diverse stories involving diverse characters, which was a main driver that led to publishing with Vital Narrative.
Campos also gave insight on the research she completed for the book, her inspirations for characters and revealed some information about her next novel, Summer Camp Is Cancelled.
BY: DARLENE P. CAMPOS
Floods aren’t anything new in Houston. We’ve gone through hurricanes before. We knew the neighborhoods most prone to flooding before Harvey paid us his visit. We prepared ourselves with full hoards of food, bottled water, and gas. We thought we were ready.
Harvey showed us we were wrong the minute he arrived.
Yet, unlike thousands of fellow Houstonians and Texans in other cities, I didn’t lose anything.
I didn’t lose power.
I didn’t lose water.
I didn’t lose my car.
I didn’t lose my house.
I didn’t lose my life.
The only physical loss I had was a couple of pounds because I was so petrified, I could barely eat. Harvey made me lose weight. That’s it.
Harvey also made me lose pieces of my heart. The neighborhood where I grew up is in shambles. A beloved bakery my fiancé and I visited whenever we wanted a good dessert is gone. The libraries I practically lived in during my college years are severely damaged. Watching your city, the place you call home, conquered by floodwaters is agonizing. Yet, Harvey did not take Houston’s hope. We Houstonians watched our city be ravaged by Harvey. We Houstonians have come together to rebuild.
After Harvey, I was overjoyed to be unharmed, but I felt so guilty to be spared. Why didn’t Harvey come for me? He tried. He flooded my entire street and then the water crept up to the rear of my car. By morning, the water receded. Harvey came close. For others, he came full force and showed no mercy.
I pledge to donate my royalties from September 15th through October 15th to the Greater Houston Community Foundation’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. For the next month, all of my royalties will go directly to helping Houstonians rebuild their lives. Please visit https://ghcf.org/hurricane-relief/ for more info or to donate.
“And so there are claims forgiven
And so there are things that are gone
Houston is filled with promise…”
- R.E.M., “Houston,” 2008