What is the Story with “American Dirt”?

Hello writers and today’s post is looking at the issues that we as a community are faced when it comes to publishers marketing such books as American Dirt. Let me preface this conversation with, there is a lot to cover with this one.

What we know so far?

American Dirt is a novel published this year by Flatiron Books and it is written by author Jeanine Cummins. This book is already the first of this year’s Oprah Winfrey’s book club choices.This book also categorized as thriller, suspense, domestic fiction, along with hispanic american literature.

With that being said, the author, identifies as white and Latina; although, she did have a grandmother, who is from Puerto Rico, which is a fact that the author brought up as it came closer to the final publication of her novel.

“You don’t get to bring out your Puerto Rican abuela when it’s convenient,” said Daisy Hernández, a Colombia American writer who teaches writing at Miami University of Ohio and wrote a 2014 memoir, “A Cup of Water Under My Bed.”

There is even more to the story in that Cummins went to Mexico to do research for her book. In 2018 the book was sold to Flatiron Books after a three-day bidding war with like nine other publishers, and after it was all said in done she earned a seven figure deal for the book.

Also there is a film adaptation of the book, starting in the works.

What is the book about?

In a nut shell, American Dirt is about a woman who lives in Mexico at the beginning of the book and flees to America with her young son after her husband is killed by a drug cartel.

What’s the issue?

There are several issues that go around this book. First off, and take this as you may, I am white same as a lot of authors and there are some in the Latino community that feel that a white person should not tell this story. I can agree with this to a certain extend, however, in the times that we live in with all the political correctness, a white person writing a book like this is not something that should even be conducted.

Granted, I understand that the author has said that she identifies as not only white but also as a Latina. But she came out and said that she was white first then some time later she came out and said that is now a Latina. That’s not who someone should identify themselves, based on a current moment in time. However, that being said this is one of the reasons that this books is burning in the fire.

Yes, I am a big opponent of write what you want and see where it takes you too. But if you are going to upset a lot of readers and others within the community, then you better take your book and get their input as far as the accuracy of what you are betraying in your book. Do your research, but don’t forget to get others opinions before you send off that manuscript.

The reason for this is that when a critic was in Mexico and took this book with her, she said that there were two sides to the setting. In that she was in Mexico, the real Mexico, and what she was reading was the fake Mexico. No, no, no. Anyone that has taken writing 101 will tell you that your settings should make your readers feel like they are there, in the story. But if someone is in the current location of your book and looking around them and seeing a huge difference, then you failed that part of the course, for you have not put them in the right location, for you could have put them somewhere else as far as setting.

This author has made some mistakes with this book. Yes, she did the research but even so she still got facts and still portrayed things in her book wrong. Granted, for the most part those of us that are looking at this situation from the outside, we don’t know what things the publisher or the editor added or changed from what she sent into them. But the biggest thing that has offended a lot of in the Latino Community is the stereotypical notions that had made their way into the book. But at the end of the day, it’s her name on the book like our names will be on any book that we publish, and who gets the judgement? Not the editor, that’s for sure. The publishing company, sure but most of it reflects back on the author.

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Other things that have been said about this particular book, is that for some readers who have picked up the book and started to read it. It made them feel guilty. Why? This goes back to a white person should not be writing this book, some white people have felt that this is not a book that was meant for them to read.

Now, when you make your reader feel guilty for the race that they are reading a book, you have, depending how you look at it, made either a really big impact on your reader, or you are starting to put a line in the sand that says this book is not for everyone to read, for it is only for some to read. This is where censorship comes into play.

Yes, somethings are censored for good reason. However, when the censorship barriers are put up then what is the point of writing a book and getting it published, so only some of the literary world can read your work? I don’t think so. You write it and publish it so that the whole world can read what you put your heart into. What you put every breath of you into. What you put your tears, sweat and blood into. You gave life sort of speak to a book. Yes, a book is an object but when you have written that book, it’s your baby. I don’t care what anyone else says that is your baby right there.

Furthermore, writing books that you are trying to make an impact with your readers, is first saying a have a message. Yes, I’m fiction as my median, but I have something to say. The author says that this was her intentions, but this truly not what is going on here. Yes, if anyone that has taken American Literature will tell you that you at some point during the time in that class, you are asked to read a book about slavery.

I’ll try not to go down the American History story line in this; however, never once did a teacher teaching the material tell the white students in his/her class that you are not allowed to read this. But you are instead told you are going to read this, and the reason is so that you understand what the time was like and what it was like to be a slave. Granted, I will put this up here, a book on slavery again should probably not be written by a white person, but in the past they were. Why? Granted, in this country we have had plenty of racism going on and sexism. Woman at one point could not publish books. Why?

Answer: Because the publishers thought that boys would not read books written by women. This is not the case today. Look at Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. Both series are written by women and both have been picked up by boys, who love to read them.

Now there is another sad fact, for some time people of color could not get published by the big publishing houses, so then they had to self-publish their work. Times have changed, which is a blessing. However, we still have a long way to go, for most of the people that work in the publishing industry is predominantly white.

How does it relate to the American Dirt?

Since many of the publishers are white, this has lead to a lot of exclusion from the Latino community to be published by the book publishing houses. So when a white woman writes a book such as American Dirt, then a message has been sent that only whites are allowed to tell the stories of there’s for they can get them published instead of you.

This again is an example of the gatekeepers letting people in and leaving others out in the cold. This is not right, for there are many writers out there that are gifted and not given the chance. This also leads to the subject of writing to trends. Not everyone wants to write to a trend. But if you do, that’s fine. But for others, like myself, I should not be dictated what I need to write in ordered to be published by them.

The publishers need to get past the thing of everyone that they publish needs to fit into a box. This is the same problem that we have in Hollywood right now. The box is already filled with stories that have been done before. People want new things and if they keep saying that writers need to fit into this box, or they won’t have a job then fine do what has already been done before. I can go self-publish or in terms of film, I can become an independent film maker.

Either way, this book has already lit a torch and that torch keeps getting bigger and bigger, and the burn scars are growing no thanks to the publishing houses or the praises that this book is getting either.

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Another part of the discussion that came from this book being published, is why are some books picked up for publishing and others are not? I have talked about this on here before and the biggest reason is trends.

When it comes to American Dirt, there is not a lot of books being written on the topic of immigration from south of the border. However, there is a lot of discussion around the topic due to thousands of immigrants flee from Mexico and Central America to the United States every day. Yes, this is more of a political trend on the wave length than that of a writing trend. But who knows maybe this book has opened that flood gate for more stories like this to be written and published. Then the Latino Community will pass judgement on who will be able to write these sorts of stories, such as them.

I don’t have any problems with this. Since these are not the sort of stories that I am focused on telling, and that is fine for there are others out there that have more knowledge than I do on the subject and are better qualified than I to tell them. They can tell their stories and people are interested in those stories.

My message to them, is that they should tell their stories and fight for them to be published. If a woman that has never lived that life got her version of this topic published than others can too.

The Take Away?

I know that I have written a lot today on this subject. But let me tell you something, there is a lot that comes to this book to cover. Yes, there are lot of things that we as writers need to look at when it comes not only writing but publishing as well. It’s not just do the research and write, but also look at community that you are writing for in mind. Talk to them and get their perspective.

As for the book itself, it’s not a book that I would read. I’m not going to tell you whether or not you should read it for yourselves. But I know that some of the comments that I have seen from people that have ordered the book and received their copy yet, they will not be reading this book.

The publishing industry needs to change, like I’ve said before, and the gate keepers need to stop not letting people in, or by making rules that state that only those that follow what we want to write for us. I’m not talking about the rules of genre, which need to be followed, but rather the rules that they set forth like the trends that they know are being picked up.

We need to as a community to say enough, and to get the publishers to pay attention to us. Let’s face it without us they wouldn’t have their jobs. But a book like this is not going to help. However, a book like this might also help us if the publishers see the mistake that they have made in publishing a book like this.

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Sorry, if this was not a normal post for this blog or site, but I wanted to present you with information that is going on with recent events in our community.

Until next time I hope that you have a great writing day!

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