First I must make a confession: I was very nervous about reading Zetta Elliott‘s A Wish After Midnight despite all the good reviews it’s had. I was nervous because it’s self-published and I’ve had some bad experiences with self-published books. Midnight does show a few (minor) signs of not coming from an established publisher such as the margins and line spacing too tight. However, within a couple of pages I stopped being bothered by them, and a few pages after that I stopped seeing them at all because I was lost in the story.
I feel like A Wish After Midnight was designed with me in mind. Because it does so many things I love as well as working as an homage to one of my favourite writers, Octavia Butler. It’s a time travel story set in New York City between now(ish) and the Civil War. Both time periods are vividly realised. You can smell and taste and feel the very different NYC (mostly Brooklyn) landscapes between then and now. I adore historical novels that are clearly well-researched and yet all that research is not obvious. It permeates every scene, every sentence of the book, but it never feels like the author was showing off. Story came first. I love social realism that is also genre. Wish covers multiple genres seamlessly.
Then there’s the protagonist. I absolutely adored Gemma Colon. She’s smart, strong, resourceful, but also very young. She’s an outsider at school and doesn’t get on with her two oldest siblings. Her mother is fighting hard to keep the family afloat but that involves working around the clock. Funny how economic stability and emotional stability sometimes work out to be incompatible. If you’re a single parent working two jobs you don’t get to spend enough time with your children. Gemma is in a lot of pain but she channels it all into working as hard as she can at school and at home. She maintains a huge capacity for joy and hope. Can you tell I adored her?
A Wish After Midnight is influenced by one of my favourite books of all time, Octavia Butler’s Kindred. You could almost say that it’s a YA reworking of Butler’s brilliant book. Butler has had an enormous influence on my writing. So when I say that Wish evokes Kindred without ever being overwhelmed by it, that’s a huge compliment. In fact, I was left wanting to re-read Kindred and Wish back to back.
My biggest question about Wish is why it had to be self-published. This is great story telling, it’s totally commercial—i.e. I could not put it down—it’s also an ethically compelling book about race, class and gender. It’s not like other books in the marketplace. I don’t understand why a big house has not picked it up.
As you can tell my streak of reading extremely good books continues. I’d love to hear what you all thought of A Wish After Midnight espeically those of you have also read Kindred.
I’ve read KINDRED and I’m reading AWAM right now. Will be posting my thoughts soon to my blog.
But to your question: I think self-publishing may become more and more of a viable option for under-represented writers—particularly during these economic times.
I don’t read many self-published works because while the author might have talent, they often aren’t good editors. And they shouldn’t have to wear all hats.
And I admit I was nervous about AWAM because I had gotten to know and like Zetta. Getting to know her, my fears subsided, but I was still uneasy. Why, because, I know a lot of educated people for example who can’t write poetry to save their lives and I read a lot of poetry. 🙂
Zetta, however is not only a published academic, but she had other works published. First few pages in, an editor should have recognized that not only was she was a skilled writer but the storyline is something that hasn’t even been remotely touched in YA so how did paid professionals miss this one? My only guess is because too many industry gatekeepers fail to see outside of the few pigeon-holes they have assigned writers of color to. And the pigeon-holing is a big loss for us, readers.
I have shared Zetta’s book with several readers and every one has enjoyed it. Reviews have been more than good; reviewers have been asking the same thing: why did the author have to self-publish?
If we have see more quality work like this from self-published authors, then I am ready to ditch my apprehension and embrace them. I’m with Neesha, we may find that we won’t have to be held hostage by industry choke holds.
I am thankful we have blogs and other online platforms that bridge the divide between writers and readers. We are very fortunate that we no longer have to dependent on gatekeepers to tell us what is being written. And I don’t hate editors and publishers. I am critical of the industry and I have reason to be. I hope those who make the choices and final decisions, are getting the message: diversify, move beyond what you know and learn more because we, readers want more. I expect more.
Neesha: As I’m sure you know, the problem with self-publishing is 1) Distribution. The vast majority of those books are not getting into bookshops, which makes them hard to find and thus most times they don’t reach their intended audience.
2) The big houses produce a better product.The layout and design and proof reading etc. is overall vastly superior.
That said the big houses are overlooking many good books particularly those that aren’t white. And the viability of small presses is actually increasing. With all the layoffs in publishing there are lots of talented publishing people able to put their skills to work at smaller houses.
Perhaps the ebook revolution will solve the distribution problem too. I really hope so because it depresses me that Wish was not published by a big house.
Susan: Exactly. I hope the reception Wish has gotten will wake up some of those editors and agents.
Because publishing houses offer so much extra stuff: editing, copyediting, proofing, good design and layout, excellent printing etc. I really want them to be publishing a wide range of quality books. (Rather than, say, a million Twilight knockoffs.) Because they do what they do well. (Mostly.) But right now they are ignoring a whole raft of different voices. Which means they’re not gate keeping well. I keep hoping it will change. And it is. But SO slowly.
“So when I say that Wish evokes Kindred without ever being overwhelmed by it, that’s a huge compliment.”
You have to have real talent and confidence as a writer to draw a connection to Butler’s work, and Zetta does an impressive job. It was a bold move, a successful, satisfying move.
“Rather than, say, a million Twilight knockoffs.”
Say it again, will you? 🙂
Thanks for posting about this book, I’ll look for it.
I have to say , though, that I think the ‘big houses’ have always managed to “overlook” many writers of color, especially those writing about complex or controversional topics, in many genres.
Susan: Problem is people keep buying them . . .
Delux: Absolutely. But I am an eternal optimist. I keep hoping it will get better.
@ Justine: Yes, believe me, I have looked into, and am aware of the differences between self-publishing and the big houses. But I do think that writers need options. Particularly when there are clearly double standards around what is published (@ Delux: exactly). My second novel is a light, humourous, fun one that has little to do with race and identity. The feedback I’ve received is that it is too “quiet,” too “light”, and that it won’t stand out. Oh—and “too commercial.” I am a published author with strong industry reviews for my debut. When I go to B&N, I see shelves upon shelves of quiet, light, fun, commercial books about white teens. My sense is that publishers view books about or by PoC as more of a financial risk. And, because of this, our books can’t afford to be quiet, light, or commercial (??).
I’m thrilled that Zetta went forward with her dream of seeing WISH in print. What a dismal loss it would have been to all readers if she had sat around waiting for someone to see some value and worth in her words.
Oh, I keep hoping, too, Justine :). Maybe—if we keep raising awareness and dialoguing and challenging, doors will begin to creak open just a little bit wider.
Neesha: I’m so sorry to hear that. It’s so depressing. The industry is more risk averse now than ever before. And more stupid in my opinion. The Twilight knockoff thing? They’re killing it stone cold dead by publishing so many of them. In the next year or so most of the xeroxs of a xerox of a xerox of a xerox of Twilight are going to die on their arse. And then what?
I am infuriated by the notion that books with characters who aren’t white have to be about race (explicitly I think all books wind up being about race class and gender intentionally or unintentionally) because otherwise why aren’t they white? Yes, I’ve heard that said. I’m sure you’re not surprised.
But I know there are editors out there actively looking for different voices. I just wish there were more. WAY more.
But, yes, the way we change this is to keep talking and writing and like that. Cause waiting for them all to die is too slow.
“I am infuriated by the notion that books with characters who aren’t white have to be about race (explicitly I think all books wind up being about race class and gender intentionally or unintentionally) because otherwise why aren’t they white? Yes, I’ve heard that said. I’m sure you’re not surprised.” – Justine
Not surprised at all, but it’s still annoying as Hell to hear.
Sounds to me like they’re saying that even the PoC books have to cater to the white majority by being all about what it’s like to not be white.
I am so glad you like this book. When I read it, I couldn’t put it down either. Now I am waiting on the edge of my seat for Judah’s tale!!! Zetta is such a great writer. It’s so encouraging to see so many people recognize her talent. Her stories are so rich, yet her delivery is crystal clear.
If you’re ever in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden look for the whispering bench. I was tickled pink when she shared it with me.
I see it’s on Amazon.ca, too. Yay. I have put it in my shopping cart. Thanks for recommending it.
I think it is a shame that it is self-published, because it has such limited exposure. With all the garbage out there, that this book should have to be self-published should make publishers ashamed.
I’m not on Team Judah, so to speak, but nevertheless, I can’t wait for the sequel. Zetta is such a talented, compassionate, and witty writer (and I would also love to see a book that highlights her wit). My wish for Zetta is that her next book can get published and promoted and widely distributed as I’m certain it will deserve to be.
haven’t read it yet, ordering it for the library immediately!
As to the self-pub thing, well, if you’re a writer, and you’ve sent your stuff out and no one grabs it, then if you self pub and promote the heck out of yourself, well, you create a following. BUT that doesn’t necessarily mean any “Big house” will touch you. Too risky. or so my friends who self-publish and sell, tell me…..
If you’re fantasy fans, Try Elfhunter and the other 2 in that trilogy (C.S. Marks). Wonderful characters, awesome illustrations, she is definitely writing what she knows…and she’s self-published. Working on her fourth book, too!
I so remember not wanting to read this book. Zetta herself sent me this book. This self published book. It was such a wonderful read! I have come to admire Zetta’s passion-filled campaign to have her story read. I can’t image what it would feel like as an author to have to fight so hard, face rejection or goodness knows what else from publishers who find so many reasons not to publish what certainly would be a best seller. I’ve given the book to district level administrators and to students. The reaction is always the same: they want the next book!
I’ve been lucky with self-published books – the few I’ve read have all been really good. However, that is likely because I never hear about the not so good ones. Only the excellent ones get this sort of attention and make it onto my radar.
I’ve ordered AWAM, hopefully Amazon is quick this time. Octavia Butler was one of my favorite authors, and I remember being depressed for weeks after I heard of her death. I mourned for her and for the books I would never get the opportunity to read – a third Parable book, or a sequel to Fledgling….
Just curious – is Kindred your favorite of Butler’s books? I think the Parable books touched me the most, but they are difficult to list as favorites, because they are dark in so many ways. I finally broke down and got a copy of Survivor, but it’s so fragile I’m afraid to read it – and, I think, I want there to be something to look forward to – a book from her that I haven’t read.
I’ve heard about this book before from different places, however your enthuiasm makes me what to rush out and get the book. Thank you for sharing and talking about a book that richly deserves the attention.
Jo Ann Hernandez
BronzeWord Latino Authors
I really enjoyed A Wish After Midnight and I loved Gemma. Its a shame this book hasn’t found a home. Though everyone who has read or will read A Wish After Midnight are very lucky that Zetta did not let this stop her.
There aren’t many YA novels that take place in NYC during the civil war or mention the Draft Riots. Those are only two things that make this book stand out.
A Wish After Midnight works on so many levels. Hopefully it will find a home soon, so more people can has access to it.
If we are talking about favorite Butler books I’d have to say mine is Mind of my Mind
Thanks very much to Justine and everyone who commented on my book! Self-published books have a bad reputation for a reason–many of them *are* poorly written and were rightly rejected by traditional presses. Increasingly, however, manuscripts that have real merit are being shut out of the traditional publishing process, and authors with a proven publication record are turning to self-publishing so that their books can have a life in the world. Publishing on demand sites like Lulu and Create Space can really empower marginalized writers, especially if they make sure to put their best foot forward…I actually established a relationship with Baker & Taylor, so technically, any book retailer can sell my book. Most store owners want proof of demand, however, so self-published books need advocates who will ask their library or independent bookseller to order the book. Sorry–didn’t mean to preach to the converted! Thanks again for all your support.
I’m so glad you read and loved AWAM Justine!
When I first started Reading in Color, Zetta was the first author to reach out to me. I was afraid that I wouldn’t like it and I would have to give the first book ever sent to me to a review a negative review (this brought to mind a lot of questions about whether or not I should rate a book higher if it gets sent to me and I ultimetly decided to go with my gut and review the books honestly regardless of whether or not they get sent to me). When I received the book it never occured to me to ask if it was self-published.I didn’t notice anything while I was reading either. I just loved the story. I loved Gemma and Paul and I can’t wait for Judah’s Tale.
I agree that due to hard economic times authors are probably looking to self-publish more, but I also think that the whole stigma associated with “self-publish” should be dropped. As seen in AWAM, a self-published book can be amazing. I’m going to try and give more of them a chance should they come my way 🙂
Zetta rocks, and so does this book. I’m also very glad that she didn’t give up, and like Justine, I can’t believe publishers didn’t jump on the chance to buy it.
Like many have said, I was nervous about reading it, too, because I’ve had a bad experience with self-published books. But when I heard Zetta’s story and saw the other reviews, I started to get excited. And the book lived up to my expectations, which is saying a lot. I even got it as a gift for a friend!
The thing that perplexes me the most is the fact that Zetta *has* an award winning picturebook on the shelves (semi-shameless plug) – why ON EARTH hasn’t she gotten any other offers from the larger houses?
I do know *this* I was rejected many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many times before I got my big break, and the sky has opened up since. I am absolutely positive that Z.E. will amaze us with how much she can accomplish on her own accord! and when/if she does decided to publish with a major house it will only add to the reputation she’s already established on her own. She’s already blown my mind.
I suggest that those who have read and enjoyed Zetta’s book go to amazon.com and post your reviews.
A few months back after I reviewed A Wish After Midnight I went ahead and cut/pasted the review to Amazon and Shelfari.
I figured I had already written the review why not do a little extra for a really good self published book.
I’ll add another enthusiastic vote to the Zetta fans. She’s a friend and colleague, but I also feel I can speak objectively in saying that AWAM is an excellent book. I learned about this period in history which I never knew about before (the draft riots in NYC) – and was totally immersed in the world she created. This book is complex on all sorts of levels, about Gemma’s sense of herself, her race, her family – and the slip in time makes it even more interesting. She doesn’t settle for simple solutions or relationships between the characters, yet writes with real compassion and affection for all of her characters (even if some readers have been torn between the boy options. And I really think self-publishing is the path of the future, or author cooperatives. When people pool together with different connections and strengths, they can bipass the often-outdated publishing structures and reach out directly to readers. The technology is there and waiting – and Zetta is showing the way by picking it up and running with it.
Young adult author, playwright and poet, Zetta Elliott will discuss her latest book A WISH AFTER MIDNIGHT during a live interview on Rhymes, Views & News Talk Radio hosted by DuEwa Frazier on Sunday, August 8, 2010 at 5pm EST.
Zetta Elliott will discuss the themes within A Wish, her writing life and outreach to young readers. Tune in to listen LIVE and CALL IN with your questions for Zetta at (646)716-9474.
for more information on this and other author interviews!