Last night, my butt was frozen to a folding chair in front of an expectant audience in The Book Exchange, a local Indie bookstore. My throat closed shut and my tongue felt like sandpaper – you know, the coarse kind that could skin a cat. Lined up on both sides of me was a panel of authors and musicians of the highest caliber, all there to present our work in the Trio Live 2018 project, the brainchild of Shari Smith of Working Title Farm. This project matches professional musicians and artists compose songs and art around a line-up of extraordinary books. I couldn’t believe I was a part of it. As the event began, I looked into the audience’s faces, pictured them naked, and crossed my fingers in hopes I wouldn’t trip when it was my turn to speak.
Being a writer scares me. I wrote The Unexpected Daughter in secrecy for three years because I was afraid those around me would disown me, or worse, hate my writing. I was a white, privileged, stay-at-home mom of five for nearly two decades. A doctor’s wife, a sometime tennis player, a Monday morning regular at the corner nail salon. But, I was also a child of working class Kentuckians, wife of an Indian man, a lone white daughter-in-law in a huge Indian family, a mom of biracial, bicultural kids. I straddled cultures and classes, yet owned membership in none.
I began a blog in 2013 about my cross-cultural family and began writing the novel, The Unexpected Daughter – because writing is cheaper than therapy. The international audience I gained from my blog validated me, and I felt empowered by others who longed to take down walls, too. I also took a job teaching ESOL, English as a Second Language, during the year of Trump’s election. Boy, did my world split wide open. My students were escapees from countries I knew little about, and some of were the hardest working people I had ever met. These kids, who worked seven days a week until midnight, came to school hungry and exhausted. But they showed up. I grew to love them more because of the adversity they faced head on in order to survive.
There were days during the “Make America Great Again” campaign when I cried at school, because I knew the human faces of these people whom “Americans” hated so much. These human beings who spoke little to no English and had brown skin and beautiful smiles, were another face of the cultural barriers I’ve wanted to breakdown. My book was published just after the election, and amidst the “Build the Wall” war cries in the media, it became apparent to me that The Unexpected Daughter had a place in the world.
Fiction, my fiction, could be the first, badly needed, introduction to the beauty of other cultures for some readers.
My heart swelled last night at the sounds music by Eddie Heinzelman, Radney Foster, Sara Aili, and the emotional words about their books by Bren Maclain, Deborah Mantella, Daren Wang, Peter McDade, Donna Everhart, and Radney Foster. We all have a powerful message to share. When it was my turn, praise the Lord, I did not trip in front of the crowd. And afterward, while we mingled and signed books, my heart leapt when multiple people approached me and thanked me for sharing my novel, because they too had overcome cultural barriers and racism in their lives. Complete strangers, we were in those moments kindred spirits with hopes for change. They took copies of my book home with them, and I took home their gifts to me – the certainty that the written word can be a game changer. And Trio is the most amazing place to share it.