Monday 21 March 2022

Neo-Victorian Voices: Libertie, Kaitlyn Greenidge (2021)

Most of the twenty-first century written, nineteenth century set novels I’ve read, which are centered on the Black experience in the United States, have focused on the horrors of slavery (see for example, my reviews of Sadeqa Johnson’s Yellow Wife, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings, Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s Wench, and Valerie Martin’s Property). Freedom was presented as a goal, a dream, and a destination for the characters in many of these books, with little page space given over to what freedom looked like, or even could look like, for African Americans during and after the Civil War. 

As the title of Kaitlyn Greenidge’s 2021 novel, Libertie, suggests, this is a book all about freedom. Our title character is a freeborn, Black girl in nineteenth-century Brooklyn. As a child, she witnesses her mother’s role in the Underground Railroad, smuggling enslaved people to the North in coffins. And as she grows and matures, Libertie grapples more and more with what freedom means to her. Is true liberty possible in a country so divided along race lines? Could real freedom mean starting over in the Black-led nation of Haiti? And can she shake free of the life her mother, a white-passing, Black, woman doctor, planned for her? 

This all sounds very lofty, and the novel does deal with complex history and difficult themes, but at the core of Libertie is this quieter story about the fraught, but loving, relationship between mother and daughter. At times I was frustrated with Libertie’s perspective, especially in her teenage years, but Greenidge’s depictions of the misunderstandings between the protagonist and her mother have a sharply observed psychological realism. Libertie has other important relationships too—with the grieving escapee she sees her mother “raise from the dead” at the book’s opening, with a pair of singing, Black, women college students, who she eventually realizes are romantically linked to each other, and with the Haitian man whom she marries—but it is the mother/daughter bond that makes this a compelling character-driven read.

Those who enjoy the intersection of historical fact and fiction may also want to learn more about the inspiration for the character of Libertie’s mother in the novel—Dr. Susan Smith McKinney-Steward, who was the third Black woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. 

Which nineteenth century set novel would you like to see me review next as part of my Neo-Victorian Voices series? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist

Wednesday 9 March 2022

Writers’ Questions: Do I need to be on social media to get published?

Welcome/Welcome back! Since the sale of my debut novel, Bronte’s Mistress, in 2019, I’ve been writing blog posts answering fellow authors’ burning questions about the writing and publication process. 

I’ve touched on the topic of social media before, in my post on the best writing hashtags to follow on Twitter and Instagram, but today I’m back answering one of the questions I’m asked most frequently: is a social media presence necessary in order to get traditionally published? 

The short answer = no. 

If you write fiction, your social media presence will have little to no impact on whether you’re offered a publishing contract, with a couple of important exceptions. If you’re a celebrity or an influencer who’s amassed a huge (I’m talking six figure or higher) following, this bodes well for the marketability of your book and will open doors for you in the industry. And, if you’re writing under your real name and have a penchant for posting highly controversial statements on social media, your online activities may hurt your chances should an editor or agent Google your name. But trust me, these rare scenarios aside, there’s no need to sweat over whether you have 200 or 2000 followers.

Case in point: my acquiring editor only reviewed the biography passage of the Bronte’s Mistress submission package after she’d read and become interested in the manuscript. It didn’t matter that my day job is in social media, that I’d been writing this blog for six years, or that I’d been building my presence on all major platforms. So, if you’re one of those people who doesn’t enjoy digital self-promotion, please know that you’re probably not damaging your hopes of achieving your writerly dreams.

What then is the value of engaging in the writing community online prior to selling your first book? In my view, the biggest benefit social media offers early career writers is the opportunity to learn from published writers/publishing professionals and to connect with each other. This is a low-pressure way to dip your toe into the writing community online. If you don’t know how to get started, you can always check out the writing hashtags I suggested previously. The other benefit, of course, is that when your book does sell, you won’t be building up your online presence from zero, but we’ll save marketing via social for another blog post…

Let me know which questions you’d like to see me answer next in my Writers’ Questions series. You can comment below, contact me on Instagram or Facebook, or tweet me @SVictorianist. Haven’t read Bronte’s Mistress yet? My debut novel is available in hardcover, paperback, e-book and audiobook now!