It’s not everyday that you get to celebrate a fifth birthday, but lo and behold, on February 5th, we did just that.
Of course, The Color of Life is not an actual person. Lest you be confused by a title articulating that someone is five-years-old, let me be clear: my book baby is five years old. The book that made me an author just turned five years old!
Is this something to be celebrated? Should this even be marked? When should an author shut her yapper about a book that has potentially passed its prime?
Although answers vary to the questions posed, I have landed in the following place: if the conversation is still relevant, we need to keep talking about it. If, in the case of this particular book, white people waking up to issues of race and justice is still something that needs to happen in our country, then I’ll keep wishing that little crayon-scribbled cover the happiest of birthdays.
I suppose the truth is also this, though: in the life of a book, the expectation is that you’ll shut your trap at some point, usually, when the next book takes to the shelf. But when a second book doesn’t surface as quickly as you’d like it to, then sometimes you have no choice but to continue to peddle the first.
Like a lot of first-time authors, when The Color of Life released, I dreamed big dreams for that little baby. I’d poured my heart and soul into it, after all. I remember sitting in the cozy, attic library room of our Seattle house (where we lived at the time), reading through the manuscript out loud, one last time. At the end of the reading, I felt my eyes glisten with tears: I was proud of the words I’d written and of all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into its many, varied different forms. Come what may, I was ready to offer this story to the world.
I’d make the New York Times Bestseller list! I’d write a book everyone would want to read! I’d, I’d, I’d … fill-in-the-blanks however you wish, I had become a little too big for my britches, as my grandmother used to say. So when the book actually released, it was but a blip on the radar.
Sure, the marketing team neglected to do their part in more ways than one. But also, it was a first book, from a first-time author, no less. Most publishers, I hear, don’t expect authors to sell more than 5,000 books their first time around. Although exceptions to the rule always wriggle their way into the conversation, my only job after the book released was to keep writing.
Write I did, a bit. But I also promoted my book, a lot. For the next nine months, I traveled up and down the West Coast and to Mississippi, mostly engaging in conversational events with people of color to elevate the bigger, greater topics at hand. (As a friend told me in the months prior to the book’s release, Cara, if you, as a white woman, get up on stage to talk about issues of race, you’ve missed the point. I’m grateful he said what he said; I’m so grateful we took another path).
By the time the pandemic rolled around, just over a year later, I was still deeply embedded in all those good and necessary conversations — which is perhaps why, when every remaining event dropped off the calendar, I found myself at a loss.
In more ways than one, I felt stuck. I couldn’t write if I tried: perhaps like you, my world felt like it had been turned upside-down and shaken all around like a snow globe in the middle of spring. When I finally pieced together the remnants of a proposal a year later (which, if you’re keeping track, was then in the spring of 2021), it was too late. The idea had passed its prime. To keep the analogies fresh, I had to dig around in the soil for something else.
Which is why, nearly six years after the publication of my first book, another book will finally come into this world.
Maybe it’s a tale as old as time, at least for the writers among us. Or maybe, sometimes, it’s just how things go.
So when, next week, I preach at a church in Portland, Oregon, I’ll bring along a stack of books. Want to buy a book? I’ll say. Do you want it signed? I’ll add. And then the conversation will continue, even some believe the conversation long past its prime.
Because in all of these things, I’ll recognize the honor it is to write and publish a book, to tell the kinds of stories that hopefully reach a couple kindred souls and then do it all over again.
Celebrate this five-year-old’s birthday by picking up an autographed copy today.