Happy Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month! This month we recognize the historical and cultural contributions of people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent to the United States. I’ve been celebrating by launching my book, The Strength of Water, an Asian American Coming of Age Memoir. This is my mother’s memoir, as told to me, starting in the 1920s and spanning nearly a century, which offers period details of immigrant life in the U.S. and village life in China. It is a story of dual identity, life on the margins, survival, and new-world dreams.
Launching this story into the world has been both a dream and, if I’m honest, pretty exhausting. Writers tend to be introverted, and after four book talks in one week capped with chaperoning my daughter’s senior prom, I celebrated Mother’s Day by collapsing on the beach with a hat over my face. And I know I’ve barely begun.
The Strength of Water: First Book Review
Still, I am so grateful for opportunities presented by enthusiastic friends, family, and acquaintances. I am a contributing writer for the Alameda Post, and my celebration began when the Post published a lovely review by Lee Hsu Callaham. Ms. Callaham is a former teacher of English at Cornell and Hong Kong Universities.
At some point you realize that the life you are given is just a roll of the dice. You can be born into a fabulously wealthy family or a poverty-stricken family. You can be born into a time of war and disease, or you can be born into a time of peace and prosperity. Worst of all, for many, you can be forced to leave your homeland and struggle in a new country that does not want you.Lee Hsu Callaham, in Review: The Strength of Water
My minister invited me to do my first book talk during church fellowship to a supportive audience of fellow congregation members. My cousin’s daughter invited me to talk to the Coast Guard during their AAPI Heritage celebration. Both groups asked great questions, and my heart expanded as I finally shared this story that gestated for two decades.
I applied to be a speaker in the Friends of the Alameda Free Library Author Webinar series and was delighted to be accepted. Our local library is a beloved institution, a place of happy memories for my family. The coordinator kindly scheduled my webinar for the night before my first bookstore signing; anyone interested could meet me in person the next day.
Most exciting was getting to do a book signing at my favorite local bookstore. Isn’t that every author’s dream? And this is where cheerleading friends came into play because, at first, I wasn’t sure I would attempt it. I’m an unknown author with a small press publisher. Most of my friends and family bought the book during the soft launch in March. The publisher had quietly released the book while we proofed the Amazon listing and performed other quality control checks. I wasn’t sure whether I could attract more local folks to make it worth the bookstore’s investment of time.
But one friend confidently said she looked forward to my book signing. An acquaintance on Instagram and a co-worker also asked when I would have one. My writing group facilitator advised that it would be worth the store’s time if I brought in even ten customers. I hadn’t realized that such a small number would be considered a “success.” She helped me brainstorm how to produce at least that number through my communities.
It Takes A Village
Armed with my mini-marketing plan, I pitched the idea to the store manager. A week later, the manager said he would give me a try. Once I announced the event, more friends helped by spreading the word.
My boss at the Post arranged the book review and a banner ad. The administrator at my dance studio put out the word on the studio’s Instagram feed. My church’s administrator announced it in the church newsletter. My cousin’s son posted an announcement in his company newsletter. Of course, I announced it widely through social media groups I belong to.
On the evening of the event, the store manager put out eight chairs and said he would add more if needed. By the time we started, he had moved three bookcases out of the way and put out all the chairs he had, and there were folks left standing in the back! It was lovely to sell books, but lovelier to feel such support and warmth from my community.
The unexpected arrival of my 96-year-old Auntie Jeannie was a highlight of the evening. She is a beloved character in my story. My cousin said she wasn’t comfortable driving at night, so I didn’t expect them. However, with an hour to spare, my cousin called on her brother-in-law to help, and they all made it in just as I was starting. The Post’s lovely coverage of the event is here.
Now I need to cast a wider net by pitching to more media and organizations farther afield than my hometown. And yet knowing I’ve reached the people I care about most makes me feel that I’ve laid a solid foundation.