The Day I Was Accidentally Racist

UPDATE: Another friend has joined us in our humiliation. Rebecca Birch bravely has shared her story about The Day She Was Accidentally Religiously Offensive. 

My friend Andrea Stewart just wrote this amazing blog post titled: The Day I Was Accidentally Sexist and before you read my story you should probably read hers and get some context for why I’m sharing my story. I thought it was extremely brave of her to tell this story (even though she was totally not being sexist and it was an innocent mistake–which I believe because she is my friend and I refuse the idea she was sexist for that one innocent moment). I’ve forever wanted to write about a similar experience and I’ve never had the courage, because I was so very afraid of being judged.

First of all, I believe we all have these moments that we wish we could take back, do differently, or just spend the extra second to observe a little closer before speaking or acting. And here’s mine:

It was my second year of college and my boyfriend (now husband) and I met after a class. When I found him, he was talking with a friend of ours who was on exchange from Africa getting an Agriculture degree. We were all hungry and decided to go to a restaurant downtown and chat some more. He was interested in talking with us about our experiences on growing up in agriculture families. We decided on a Chinese food restaurant–of which I’m an addict.

We sat at our table immersed in a nice meandering conversation where I mostly quizzed my friend on Africa. I’d never been outside of about a two-hundren mile radius at the time and Africa was on my bucket list, a place I’d fantasized about as a child. Aside from the water we got when we first sat down, our waitress hadn’t returned. It had now been a while and we’d not given our orders. Noticing this, I gathered up our menus and set them on the edge of the table as a hint.

We continued talking, at this point I was more interested in the conversation to care about the service just yet. When I ran out of water I set my cup to the side, hoping it would be noticed and refilled. I worked in a restaurant when I was in high school and I remembered how hard it was sometimes to know if someone wanted to be bothered. I loved it when the cup was easy to access.

More conversation and still no hint of service. All our glasses were drained now and I was fiddling with my backpack wondering if it would be rude to pull out a snack. I have a poor concept of time, something I was told later in graduate school is a side effect of dyslexia, so fifteen minutes could have gone by or an hour–I’m not really sure. All I knew was that I was hungry and thirsty. I started glancing around the restaurant looking for our waitress when I saw a woman walking by with a pitcher in her hand. She set the pitcher at the window to the kitchen where the waitresses pick up the plates. She headed back toward us. I flagged her down, first attempting to make eye contact, then holding up an curled index finger and wagging it.

She kept on walking by headed to the large table where there was obviously a party of some type going on. The group was alternating between English and some Asian language that I didn’t recognize. Up to this point I’d only really heard Cambodian (Khmer) and Mandarin (I think more of a Beijing dialect that a few local families spoke where I grew up). We had very little diversity in the small community where I was raised.

She passed our table and I whipped around and called out “Excuse me! Excuse me, Miss!” to get her attention. I was really polite, but also there was probably some desperation in my voice since I was hungry and thirsty.

She turned around and blinked at me and I held up my water glass. “Can we get more water?” She gave me a confused look and I added. “Also I think we’re ready to order.” I felt sort of proud that I was helping everyone at our table.

The conversation at the table stopped, while our African friend examined me with a look of horror as the girl explained, “I don’t work here.”

Immediately our friend leaned in and asked. “Did you think she was our waitress because she was Asian? We’re in a Chinese food restaurant so you assume anyone who’s Asian must be a waitress?”

“No.” I fumbled around for the best explanation and all of them seemed to point to the fact I was an awful human. “She had a pitcher. I saw her walking with a pitcher.”

I kept my voice low, but then thought maybe I should be a bit louder so the girl would hear me and know why I’d made the mistake.

But our friend was examining the table where the girl sat down. Our friend explained to me that the family was speaking Korean and then grinned, shaking his head, more in pity than in amusement.

I wanted to crawl under the table and die, right there. I froze, no words or intelligent explanations forming. My face heated, I swallowed against my heart beating in my throat as if it wanted to escape as badly as I did. I wanted to explain that the girl had a pitcher again, so he’d understand my context. But he didn’t seem to take this as a reasonable explanation, so I stewed over other answers in my head to make me seem less racist, all of which I was afraid to say out loud because what if it made me look even more like and idiot trying to explain it away?

I was enrolled in a Multicultural and Gender Studies class and we were currently learning how sometimes explaining away and reasoning dug a hole revealing more racism, prejudice, assumptions, and sexist thoughts/ideas. My boyfriend wasn’t saying anything (He’s never done well in situations of conflict), so I had no idea how my little incident really looked. My only judge was our friend who seemed pretty shocked I’d flagged down a lady of Asian decent and expected her to be our waitress simply because we were in an Asian food establishment. I wanted to offer up that I grew up in a town with two Chinese food restaurants and most of the waitresses were white (because we didn’t have a lot of diversity–so I didn’t assume she worked here based on her race), I also wanted to explain that I often get stopped in Mexican restaurants by people asking me to clear their plates, get water, or order (since then I’ve also been stopped at an Indian restaurant, because I also look Middle Eastern). But again all those explanations and little asides would have been flawed, it didn’t excuse the fact I’d done it, that I couldn’t reason away since NOBODY else saw she walked by with the pitcher. For the love of chocolate, did anyone see she had a water pitcher???!!!

So somewhere out there I hope someone else at that restaurant saw the same thing I did and will confirm for me that I’m in fact not making a racist conclusion. And if that poor lady I mistook for a waitress is reading, then I’m so sorry. Even though I think I said it then, I don’t remember if I did. Although amusing when it has happened to me, deep down it’s not pleasant that someone drew a conclusion based on the color of my skin, hair, or features.

(PS and for those who have flipped to my About page to see a picture of me. I do look totally white, and yes that means I do get a white privilege pass most of the time. In case you’re wondering, or it makes a difference on how racist I am, I’m part Native American Indian (Shoshone–Wyoming area), Portuguese, and yes I have a great-grandmother who immigrated from England about a week after the titanic sank. My maiden name is apparently on some sort of terrorist watch list (it’s a Middle Eastern last name and I got stopped in airports pre 9/11 before I took my husband’s name. I’ve been detained at boarder crossings to verify my passport/heritage. I tan really well in the summer). I’ve been racial profiled and it makes me so upset I did it to someone else.

I love comments! Please share your equally horrifying, embarrassing moments or just heckle me in mine. 

 

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Secret Agent Revealed

I’ve been keeping a secret. Sort of—I told a large group of my writer friends and a handful of family, but it’s still totally secret otherwise!! I’ve decided it’s now safe to make it public as I’ve passed the stage of thinking it was all a huge hallucination.

Writers get really antsy when good things happen, and I’ve fallen victim to it too. We’re a superstitious lot. If we hear someone published after they stood on their head before each writing session, then we try it just to see. If we hear that Brussels sprouts spark creativity then we pile on the helpings and choke down the world’s worst vegetable (unless you’re my parents who think those little green balls are made of awesome). When something good happens we always attribute it to luck, a massive trick we’ve pulled, or a mistake that will be corrected shortly.

Which is how I’ve felt all year, as I got good news piled on, and it seems that even at the end of 2013, my good luck had not yet run out. I’d just started the agent search this fall for my newest novel Identity (which won the Daphne. Yes, I still can’t believe it—I’m sure I got lucky, pulled some massive trick, or a mistake was made). Looking for agents is truly frightening, especially with all the horror stories, so when a podcast about agents aired on Hide and Create I diligently did my homework and prepared to learn more and become a savvier query master.

The agent interviewed was Rebecca Strauss from DeFiore and Company and I fell in love instantly, but writer/agent love often goes unrequited as I was slowly finding out. Every time she spoke, I had that weird feeling of “Oh my gosh, that’s her! That’s my agent!” So I shot off a query right after the podcast. This was around Thanksgiving. She responded a few weeks later wanting a full. And I did sent off my latest version that’d I’d sent to the RWA Golden Heart contest. Then I instantly had sending-the-full-request remorse where I realize all my mistakes. For one, my newest version didn’t have my name anywhere on the document since I’d prepared it for a contest. Shoot. I should have remembered that. Oh, and I stressed over the fact she graduated from Duke with an English major—which meant she’d instantly cast me aside for all my spelling/grammar errors.

I had no reason to worry, since three days later she wrote me back to ask if she could call me to discuss representation. We set the date for December 18th.

Now, I’m a huge believer in signs, and this was a big one. If dates have energy surrounding them, then this one is special. On December 18th 7 years ago I had my son. On that day I suffered a rare type of nerve damage/paralysis, that took me months to recover from. I’d been working on learning to write better and overcome my problems with dyslexia, but that was the date I’d made a commitment to myself to write with the intent to eventually publish. Because if I could so something as huge as learn to walk again, I could learn to write better.

The phone call went awesome and we worked out all the details. So now I can officially say I’m represented by Rebecca Strauss at DeFiore and Company!

I’m so excited to get this novel out the door and shop it around to publishers.

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Stages of Newbie Writerly Evolution Mimics the 5 Stages of Grief (Only Backwards)

(gender specific pronoun flopping to prevent exclusion of the sexes in writers. It’s just an experiment and may read terrible, but we’ll give it a try.)

One.

Acceptance. Normal person wakes up one day and decides to write a few lines on an idea for a story or book. She returns the next day and repeats action. Soon she wonders if she could be a writer. Rush of euphoria and neurotransmitter’s fires all the dopamine receptors for pleasure. Yes, she knows it. She feels it. She is a writer and she will not give up until goal is met.

Two

Depression. After reading every craft book mentioned on Writer’s Digest and every top book result in the first page of a Google search, writer realizes he cannot possibly know all there is to know. Worst of all he’s received a rejection on his perfect, obviously genius story.  A chorus of “It will never happen” or “I’m a failure” or “I’ll never be good enough” fills his head.

Three

Barganing. She begins to imagine, “If I just sell one, one teeny, tiny story I can give up with my pride in check. I can show my family I’m not delusional for choosing this path.” She starts to make deals with herself like, “If I sell x stories, I’ll go to ______workshop that will bring my writing to the next level.” Only to eventually go to workshop anyway and begin making more bargains like, “Now that I know what I can do and have new secret weapons, I will only sell to ________markets, because I’m worth much, much more now.”

Four

Anger. Writer is angry he has not sold to expected number of markets or any markets. He begins to tear apart other writers in critiques, find fault in every published story or novel. Wonders if he is the only one on earth who can see that the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey is the sign of a coming bookpoclypse.

Five

Denial/Isolation. The day she has been waiting for finally comes. A sale. A call from an agent. An interested editor in a small book deal. It’s been years writing with no indication of hope and the story that is picked up is the worst story she thinks she’s ever written. She secretly fears the editor will call her up and tell her a mistake has been made. She locks herself away to write even more, convinced she can’t do it again. It must have been a fluke.

But in denial there is always that glimmer of hope. “If I’ve done it once I can do it again.” So it is at this stage that we see the Wonderful Life moment where a bell rings (read printer beeping from empty ink cartridge), and a writer gets his wings (or finding a way to fuse his finger to the keyboard to write again the next day, and the next.) This creates a nirvana-like level of awareness where he realizes there is no spoon, Dr. Malcolm Crowne has been dead the whole time, and Luke Skywalker has an unexpected father. But deep down he fears that with these discoveries another equally rug-from-under-his-feet reveal is about to occur.

Even after a second sale, third, fourth, and beyond happens, writer still cannot believe he/she is a writer. This feeling never goes away.

Congratulations your journey as a writer has now begun.

I love comments! Every time you leave a comment a writer gets his/her wings.  

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You Tube Fame

Several years ago I did a video for my sister-in-law’s blog on how to make lotion and today I discovered that is not the only You Tube bit of fame I can hang on my wall. Now everyone (Hi mom!) can watch me receive my awards for Writers of the Future.

First place win

Grand Prize announcement 

If anything it will be easier for my parents to watch over and over while they giggle at the part where I say that they taught me to fail. That’s not what I meant, geeze. Will I ever live that down?

(Although people have told me after the tenth watch through, I started to make sense. I guess you just have to speak Tinaglish to really get it). I should at least get points for trying to be inspirational overall! Oh and for winning the largest science fiction and fantasy writing contest in the world for new writers? Maybe I get points for that too ;)

But when the dust settles, I still have just me and the keyboard. I have to keep doing it over and over. And I’ll love every minute of trying to reach that level of writing again. At least I get to keep the awesome friends I made at the workshop!

I love comments, for every comment you make a You Tube troll will be banished from his (or her) rock under the internet bridge! 

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In Which I Bombard You With All Sorts of Cool News

It seems every year I vow to update my blog more regularly, but such is the curse of most fiction writers–when I have a spare moment there’s always some other story demanding my immediate attention.

First bit of cool news:

My minion…er…I mean husband took it upon himself to create me an official–we’re talkin’ fancy-schmancy professional looking author page. It’s good he’s talented in these sorts of things.  I’m pretty worthless around a computer except to poke my way around Word or Scrivener like a toddler swinging a stick at a piñata.  Anyway, it’s gorgeous and wonderful and you can view it here:

www.tinagower.com

Then he also insisted I have a separate Facebook page, too. What? It’s not good enough to hang my name on a cyber door–I have to engage in social media too? I’m beginning to think this is how he will drag me into the modern era (kicking, screaming, and begging for my candle lamp and washboard back, so I can get some chores done. And while you’re at it my ink well is dry!) Anyway, if you have Facebook and you want to be updated on my writing news and publications you can ‘like’ me here:

www.facebook.com/gowertina

And the last bit of cool news is that the results for the Daphne du Maurier Awards are in annnnnnddddd….

I won first place!!!!

~throws confetti~

Okay, so the required story on the win follows:

I didn’t attend the National Romance Writers of America Conference, because it was in Atlanta GA and I’ve been saving my money to go to WorldCon this year (my first writing conference ever… I’ve done workshops, but so far no cons). I knew the results were being announced at the Death by Chocolate Ceremony thrown by the Kiss of Death chapter of RWA. The ceremony was at 8pm Eastern time and I knew by 9pm Pacific time the ceremony must have been done and winners announced. Thinking, huh, I never got an email nor could I find any announcements anywhere that I must not have placed, but I was curious who won. I emailed the contest coordinator with a short note that I wanted to know when the results would be posted. She emailed me back a few minutes later wanting my phone number. Turns out she also was not at the national conference and on Pacific time. I sent off my number and went back to the short story I’d been working on all day. Ten minutes later my phone rang.

She played around with me a bit. “So you entered the Paranormal category, huh? Tough category.” I could hear pages flipping in the background, she was most likely searching for my name thinking, ‘did I file that under Tina, Smith, or Gower…why does this girl have so many names? Jeeze, pick a name already.’

“You sent in the chapters from your novel Identity?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“We had some rearrangements with editor judges and some of the judges were different than the ones advertised.” Long dramatic pause. “Nothing wrong with your category though. Everything was in order.”

“Oh good.” She was talking business now, letting me down easy.

“So you’ve not heard any of the results? Not any?”

“No.”

“Well, Tina, then I guess I get to tell you…” Her voice lifted and my heart sped up, because I could tell by her tone she had something good. Maybe I placed? “You placed.” Holy Cow! “Not only did you place first in your category, but the editor who served as your judge wants the full copy of the novel for publishing consideration.”

What?!

I’d been told at my first RWA chapter meeting that sometimes an editor will request a copy of a full manuscript from a contest, but I’d heard it was never a guarantee. And since I’d spent years banished in dyslexia hell, teachers shaking their heads at my scribbles, friends giggling at my misspellings–I always assume I’ll get nothing more than a pat on the head for most of my writing attempts. But I like this turn around in my career. I’m starting to really like it!

Plus, I’m really excited for a chance to work with this particular editor, if the publishing house does like my story.

So that’s where I’m at now. Again, it’s just a request to see the rest of the novel, and it’s not a guarantee for a sale, but I’ll take it. This will be the first editor to see my novel and I’ve not sent it out to any agents, so if it’s a ‘no’ I still have a lot of other options. I’ve been busy rewriting some of my novella for the Stellar Guild project and now I’m going to do a few more re-reads and polishing of my novel before I get the packet with the information on how I’ll submit to the editor.

Okay, that’s all! You can take off those flack jackets now. I promise I’m done bombarding… for now ;)

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Guilt Frosting

“Today is a really awesome day!” I said to the kids when I picked them up.

They were in a good mood and got right in the car when I asked. They’d been patient all weekend while dealing with my crazy book signing schedule. I decided on a whim: “Let’s go get cupcakes!”

I’d seen the Cupcake Crusader was going to have her van in our neighborhood and so I took them over. When we arrived there was nobody else around. I leisurely got the kids out of the car and explained the flavors. While the kids were deciding a car drove up right behind us. The lady jumped out and speed walked over. I’d told the attended what flavors the kids would want. We were only getting two cupcakes. My wallet was buried deep under all the signing crud in my purse. Bookmarks, hat, kindle all came spilling out.

The lady jump ahead of me and said to me, “I’m going to just go ahead and order. I know what I want.”

– I nodded, now with wallet in hand. She then proceeded to hmm and ha over what flavors she wanted in her dozen box. She took the last of the flavors the kids wanted. Hooray for me for being nice and patient–rewarded with the unkindness of strangers.

Thankfully my kids were understanding and we voted to make our own at home (since Isaac is iffy with chocolate due to his stomach migraines and that was all that was left).

She did come up and apologize as I was tucking the kids back into the car– “I realize now took the last of the ones you’d planned to order. I had heard which you wanted, but I was in such a hurry it didn’t register!” She said it with a half smile, the kind people get when they know they did something wrong and are unwilling to fix it.

“Don’t worry,” I managed to somehow utter.

“Have a nice day!” Isaac called out to her as she rushed to her car in the rain.

Isaac turned to Ella. “We will save money.”

Ella clapped her hands. “Ours will taste better!”

I wondered if the woman’s cupcakes will taste as good with guilt mixed into the frosting.

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Monique Bucheger’s Super Awesome Crazy Cover Reveal Book Bomb Tour

If you’re looking for a great read for your middle grader, look no further than Monique Bucheger’s Ginnie West Adventure Series. Bucheger is kicking off her series on a week long blog tour to reveal the new covers and they’re gorgeous.

I think the series is especially tailored to girls, but boys will find plenty to enjoy between the pages, too. I first met Monique at a writer’s workshop taught by David Farland a.k.a David Wolverton. She has a talent for wholesome family stories with great morals and honest characters.

The series starts with The Secret Sisters Club, followed by Trouble Blows West, and then the third installment Simply West of Heaven.

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Nice Blog about Success

Most of today I started writing a blog series on Secrets to Success with some of my insight to what makes a person successful. Usually I get a few thousand words in and think “Oh really? What makes me a pro at this?” and I set it aside to never hit publish. But then I found this blog linked from Melanie Meander’s Facebook page:

http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/what-are-the-odds-of-success-really/#comment-71046

The gist of the article is that really success is about doing things most people never actually do. Yes A LOT of people dream of being a writer, but very few actually DO the things it takes to “make it” and that’s such a huge part of success. We’d like to think it’s luck or good networking, but really, come on…It’s also the doing.

So I guess I’ll be diving into the doing.

Kristen Lamb is author of We Are Not Alone–a non-fiction book for writers on building an audience/platform. I can’t wait to read it. Just what every craft book junkie needs–another good book.

I love comments! 5% of all comments will elevate to greatness. Okay…you really have to read Kristen’s blog to get that one.

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