Before the Book Launch Comes a Million Waves of Doubt

  This is a rushed blog post because I don’t want it to run tomorrow. You know. April Fool’s. Or is it Fools’? Whatever. I don’t want to publish something tomorrow because publishing and getting a book published is no joke.

There are many avenues to self-publishing available and viable to those who choose that route. I am actually a co-author of a devotional that was self-published, and you are more than welcome to let me know if you are interested in buying a copy God’s Graffiti Devotional from me.

But the other book I co-authored with four other amazing women just entered its 8th printing. More Than Serving Tea is not going to be a NY Times best seller, though IMHO has more wisdom in it that some of the self-help stuff that makes that list, but as I posted a photo celebrating the fact that the book is still in print I was engaged in a short FB conversation with a friend about the lack of writers of color in the recent InterVarsity Press catalogue – the same publishing house that took a risk on and supported More Than Serving Tea.

The road to getting a book published is longer for some than others, and it is connected to privilege as much as it is connected to actual writing talent. It drives me berserkoid when Christian authors say things like, “God opened the door” because it’s weird how many more doors are opened for white authors. Just sayin’. I’m pretty sure God isn’t sitting in heaven waiting for more authors of color to pray, “Lord, open those publishing doors for me.” I am not saying that all white authors have those connections. #notallwhiteauthors I am saying that Christian publishers are still set up within the cultural norms that were established for and by white authors and readers and for their success and reading pleasure.

This post isn’t about all that needs to happen to dismantle that mess. I can’t do that in one post just like we can’t dismantle white supremacy in one post.

This post is about full disclosure, authenticity, honesty, vulnerability so that you, my truly dear readers and folks joining me on this ride, get the whole story, which is more than a lovely IG post celebrating the 8th printing of a book that came out 10 years ago. In the publishing world that isn’t even a drop in the bucket. But I contributed to that drop and it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

So I’m writing this post to share with you a secret I have been keeping because this will help people who are dreaming to keep dreaming, others to start dreaming, and maybe others to support us dreamers.

I have a book proposal.

It’s public now. Usually authors don’t share that part. We share the reprint notices. We post photos of our contracts. We invite you to be a part of the launch team. I’m here to invite you into one of the scariest parts: rejection. I just sent the FOURTH version of my proposal to my editor today, the same day I got the 8th printing notice. I won’t lie. I’m hoping that was a good omen. But I won’t lie. I didn’t think I’d be on my fourth version of a proposal when I started the first version in OCTOBER. At this rate, my daughter will graduate from college before I publish another book. Before the launch is a million waves of doubt. Do I have enough for an entire book? Will I get a contract? Will anyone read the book? Will anyone actually LIKE the book?

One of the reasons this female author of color hasn’t been published again is because I am afraid. Rejection is part of the process, and I don’t know anyone who enjoys repeated rejection. Writing and all other art requires a degree of confidence, ambition, humility, and a sense of humor. It requires more things, but those were the first things that come up for me. As a soon-to-be graduating college student applying for reporting jobs, I kept my rejection letters on the apartment refrigerator numbered and complete with corrections in red ink. That was my sense of humor. But I kept applying and that is where confidence, ambition, and humility come together. You keep trying even though it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. You keep writing because you did get some good feedback. You write because that is what you know to do.

So I’m sharing the secret of my yet-to-be-accepted book proposal to invite more of you into this journey, so that more of us can silence the fear of rejection a little bit, just enough to sit down and write and put together a proposal that has to be revised. I’m letting you know that I’m trying because I think it’s in my DNA, the way God created me, and I’m not going to wait as if the immaculate conception could take book contract form. It’s not glamorous. It’s rather tedious. It’s not waiting for inspiration to hit. It’s sitting at a blank screen day after day after day.

I’m letting you know because some of you need to know you are not alone. Tomorrow is another day in front of a blank screen, and we will love most minutes of it.

Zondervan’s Next Steps

Stan Gundry, executive vice president and editor in chief at Zondervan, is the one and so far only person to respond to the e-mail I sent out earlier this month. Now, I’m not naive about business, PR and marketing. The DV incident could have been a lot uglier, but it didn’t get nearly as ugly as it could have gotten. But for the grace of God…I’m grateful for Mr. Gundry’s and Zondervan’s response sent to me March 19.

Yes, Kathy, I suppose it seems that Zondervan has gone silent since the events of last November. But we still are focused on the issues raised at that time. Here is a quick overview of what has been happening at Zondervan and of the direction in which we are headed.

  • Our President/CEO, Moe Girkins purchased copies of The Next Evangelicalism by Professor Rah and made it required reading for all members of the Zondervan Leadership Team. The book was the subject of major discussion at our January Leadership Team retreat with action items identified to assure that we do not make the same or similar mistakes again in the editing, design, and marketing of any of our products. In terms of the visual presentation of our titles from all product groups, procedures are in place to consult with a cross-section of representatives of appropriate ethnic groups to assure that visual representations are ethnically diverse and that we avoid caricatures and stereotyping that are offensive or demeaning of members of any ethnic, national, or socio-economic class. Our editors and publishers as well are giving appropriate attention to these issues.
  • In January, Professor Rah gave an address at the Calvin College January series. Moe Girkins and I attended the lecture, and at least two other highly placed people at Zondervan were in attendance. Moe and I were also invited guests to the Luncheon with Professor Rah after the address. We had a brief but cordial private conversation with him there, as well as taking part in the round table discussion over lunch. We think this laid a good foundation for future discussions and consultation with Professor Rah and other Asian American Christian leaders. A high priority for me and our publishing team is to follow up with Professor Rah in Chicago in the next 2 or 3 months.
  • Just two weeks ago, Moe Girkins met Bing Goei at breakfast event here in Grand Rapids at Cornerstone University, and last week, she was the special guest of Mr. Goei and his wife at the “First Annual Asian Gala.” Over the years we feel we have done a good job of networking with the African American and Latin American communities. But honestly, Asian Americans have not been on our radar screen, but this sort of thing will now be a high priority for us.
  • We acknowledge that Asian Americans are not well represented among our employees, and in the current economic climate, new and replacement hires are at a minimum. Nevertheless, rectifying the under-representation of Asian Americans is a priority for us, and as we establish relationships with Asian American leaders like Mr. Goei, we are asking them to refer to Zondervan qualified Asian American individuals who share the Zondervan mission and values.
  • While Zondervan has a good track record of publishing African American authors and a very active Spanish-language publishing division (Vida) that serves Hispanic authors, Christians, and churches in North, Central, and South America, we acknowledge that we have not given sufficient attention to searching out and providing a publishing platform for Christian leaders and potential authors in the Asian American community. We already have and will continue to take steps in the immediate future to rectify that situation.
  • With the shift of the center of gravity for evangelical Christian world from the “North Atlantic ” English-speaking world to the “Majority  World,” we believe that our publishing program also needs to reflect this kind of diversity. We want to give Christian leaders in the Majority World a platform and we in North America need to hear their perspective on our common faith and on the issues of the day. We continue to  actively search for Christian voices to publish from the Majority World, with a number of significant projects signed and in the “pipeline.” Perhaps you are already aware of the Hippo Books imprint we share with a consortium of African publishers, publishing Christian African scholars and leaders, and of the Africa Bible Commentary, a one volume commentary on the Bible written entirely by African evangelical scholars. We have similar commentaries under contract from other parts of the Majority World, and we are exploring the possibility of more.

Kathy, thank you for your interest. Our on-going goal at Zondervan is that who we are and what we do will better reflect the diversity of Revelation 5:8-10 and Galatians 3:26-28.

Stan Gundry

Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief

Moving Forward Sometimes Means Looking Back

I am not trying to rehash the past for the sake of rehashing the past. I am, however, trying to figure out what, if anything, was learned from the DV incident. Personally, I’m still sorting through the experience which gave me a unique opportunity to speak up about issues of identity – both ethnic and gender.

I found myself speaking out with the likes of Soong-Chan Rah and Eugene Cho while having to ask them to consider the cost of not speaking out against misogyny and sexism. And in the end my only regret is not pushing the issue further with them. We talked about whether or not “adding on” the issue of gender would hinder the effectiveness of our protest, and there was talk about whether or not we could go back and criticize content when initially we all had agreed that we were not as concerned with the content of the book.

Looking back, I would have pressed us to stop and say what we were hoping the authors would say. We made a mistake. We drew attention to the obvious – the random “Asian” images and objectification of culture for one’s own gain. But I wish I had quickly run out and taken a look at the book (which I did about two weeks into the mess), slowed down the online rant to a more thoughtful chapter-by-chapter analysis. Once I had the book in my hands I realized I had a problem with both the content and the images. I wish I had slowed down and then pressed the issue further because at the end of a day of explaining white privilege, stereotypes and brokenness I looked at a photograph in the book of an Asian woman baring her midriff, wearing an Chinese-styled dress carrying a Japanese samurai sword I had to come to terms with “male privilege” where the normative experience is that of men.

So I’m still thinking things through, praying that God will help me find a gentle, powerful voice to move forward without losing lessons of the past.

But I wasn’t alone in DV. This e-mail was sent out on March 11 in hopes of some clarification from a few folks involved.

Dear Jud, Mike, Chris and Stan,

I trust you are all doing both well and good, and you are connecting with Christ in a fresh way this Lenten season.

It has been almost four months since our paths crossed, but I suppose in some ways our telephone conversation and subsequent online “interactions” may still be fresh. I am writing not to open up old wounds but to see if you have any reflections or a response to all that happened in the fall now that there has been a little bit of time and space. I continue to have blog readers, friends and colleagues who watched the situation unfold ask me if I have had any contact with any of you (particularly Jud and Mike) and what if any thoughts I might share publicly.

Revisiting DV publicly didn’t seem appropriate until a follow-up of some sort had happened. You see, as I’ve replayed our phone conversation (with Mike, Jud, Chris, Nikki, Soong-Chan, Eugene and me) and re-read our joint statements post-conversation, I cannot help but shake the impression that our conversation would continue at some point offline. Perhaps I mistakenly assumed that Soong-Chan, Eugene, Nikki or I would be part of those conversations and that you have sought counsel of other Asian Americans. Was I wrong in assuming we would at some point come back to the table to talk?

Jud and Mike, I have been watching POTSC from it’s unexpected early start develop into what looks like a lively community ready to engage in learning from and extending second chances. I’m getting ready to write a follow-up reflection piece, and I’d prefer to include a public comment or two from either of you (or from Stan or Chris) in response/reflection four months later rather than a “no comment” or non-response. At the very least, I will be letting readers know by the end of the month that I’ve contacted you, perhaps including this e-mail, in hopes of getting us back to the table to talk again.

Please let me know what kind of response I can share publicly with my readers.

Peace,

Kathy

Heads Up: Revisiting Deadly Viper

In the last few weeks I’ve had several friends and readers ask whatever happened after Zondervan pulled Deadly Viper off the shelves. So, I’ve been trying to gather some comments and observations as well as do some personal reflection about what I learned that I could share publicly.

As I’m gathering, I’d love to hear from some of you about what you saw and learned through and in the aftermath of DV. What issues did the DV saga bring to the surface for you? What surprised you, frustrated you, angered you, empowered you? What didn’t “feel” right and have you resolved those feelings? Did Zondervan’s decision to pull the book end the issue for you or were hoping for more?

Making New Friends

I’m not “new” to the neighborhood, but there have been many days where I have felt deeply the absence of good friends nearby. I spent way too much time in crisis-mode (work transitions and conflict, church transitions and conflict, MIL’s cancer and death, FIL’s transition, son’s brush with death, and too many problems with the house) to be bothered with making friends. There didn’t seem to be enough time to make new friends, but just enough time to know I needed some.

In college I was blessed, truly blessed, to have made several life-long friends. We have weathered life’s transitions and remain close, even when time and distance make intimate friendship inconvenient. When I think of friends who will be with me when my parents leave me and see Jesus or be with me when my kids get married I think of a special group of friends. They are all Christians. They are all Asian American. They are all now married and mothers. We have had shared experiences during college and common childhood/cultural experiences. Our value systems are the same. Our life stages currently are the same.

Making new friends and then nurturing those friendships into deeper friendships can be difficult. Why? Because I’m a sinner, broken, crooked-hearted and selfish. Just ask my husband. My insecurities get in the way, and then when someone else’s garbage meets mine it’s just a bigger pile of garbage, most days. Because I find being friends with people who are more like me in race, ethnicity, age, education, life-stage, etc. easier – less explaining and wondering about the big things and little things that make me who I am. The broader the common ground the easier it is to walk on together.

But as we’ve shed our college lives and expectations behind, my college girlfriends and I have realized that even with so many things in common maintaining and deepening friendships takes work. And at the end of the day, venting on a blog post isn’t nearly as fun as calling up a friend.

So what do you do to meet new people and deepen friendships?

I have learned to be honest. Honestly, I can be stand-offish and intimidating. To quote “Up In the Air” – I type with purpose. I walk with purpose. I talk with purpose. And just like in the movie it can look like I’m really angry. My mom has told me that I have a hardened look on my face and that I need to smile and soften the intensity. I was angry with her for a long time over that comment, and then I realized she was right. I hate that.

A little bit of honesty and lots of forgiveness, grace and love from others, especially Jesus, has allowed me to step into situations and create situations that make friendship possible.

I’m looking forward to an overnight with a group of women I’ve been slowly getting to know over the past two years. I’m excited to find out what we may have in common other than our children attending school together and our delightful personalities. I’m relieved to find out  I wasn’t the only one wondering what others were going to pack and wear, and I wasn’t the only one who was going to make a beeline to the hot tub. The only other times I’ve done something like this have been in safety with friends I’d known deeply for years. This is new.

Another thing I’m trying is to use my mad e-mail skills and gather people together. I had heard of some local neighborhood book clubs and felt sorry for myself that no one had ever invited me to join. Well, here in America if you can’t join them, throw your own party (hee, hee). I shared my book club fantasy – a room full of women with diverse viewpoints and experiences and sharing their interactions with a common book over a glass of wine and laughter. It was creating space for relationships to develop into friendships. I’m not expecting a room full of new best friends, but I am hopeful for the possibilities.

And I guess that is the third thing I’m trying. I’m trying to be hopeful for the possibilities.

So what has helped you make new friends and stay hopeful in friendships? What do you do together that has made your friendships richer and deeper? What are the roadblocks that you keep coming up against?

A Joint Letter to Mike, Jud and Zondervan

To Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite, and the leaders of Zondervan Publishing,

When we received Moe Girkins’ statement regarding Zondervan’s response to the Deadly Vipers controversy, we felt a deep sense of gratitude and admiration towards all of you, for your courage and conviction in the face of a difficult and challenging situation. We know that it must have taken many hours of discussion amongst numerous parties to reach this conclusion. While the outcome is one we were hoping to see, at the same time we recognize that the costs to make this choice were high, both for the authors, Mike and Jud, as well as for Zondervan Publishing. The fact that you have not only chosen to take this step but to also use this situation as the catalyst for change within the organization speaks to the integrity of Zondervan’s leadership. The personal sacrifices that Mike and Jud were willing to bear in the midst of this decision speaks to their character and demonstrates that these are two pastors who practice what they preach and write.

Thank you for being willing to hear the voices of all those, Asian American and others, who expressed their concerns. We know that it could not have been easy at times to weather the criticisms. Nonetheless, your willingness to understand the issues, to take responsibility for the errors, and to act so swiftly and decisively in order to rectify the situation gives us great hope for the future, hope that the body of Christ can indeed demonstrate the power of reconciliation and be a witness to the world in how we resolve our differences.

We are also heartened to see the changes that have already taken place at the corporate level within Zondervan to reduce the chance that a similar controversy will occur in the future. We know that Stan Gundry has been working hard behind the scenes to bring resolution to this situation, and we want to offer him whatever assistance we can to help him in his new role. Please do not hesitate to call on us if we can support Zondervan’s efforts in deepening its cultural sensitivity and awareness.

To Mike and Jud, we can only imagine the personal toll this situation has taken on you. We have heard from numerous people who deeply admire your work and who attest to the impact that your ministry has in the church today, and we hope and trust that God will continue to bless your work, especially given the integrity you have shown in this matter. As you seek to begin the task of recasting your message in new ways, please let us know if we can help you in that process. We know there is much to preserve in the hard work you have done to this point in creating the content and community for Deadly Vipers, and we want to see your excellent ideas and your growing following converge in similar vehicles as before (book, website, blog, etc.), or more. Our hope and sincere prayer for you both is that this controversy and its resolution will in no way diminish your work and ministry, but broaden and deepen it.

Lastly, we hope and pray that the conversations and relationships that have begun in the wake of this controversy will not cease, but continue in renewed forms as we collectively seek to build and strengthen bridges amongst different members of the body of Christ. True reconciliation is not a one-time achievement but a lifelong, intentional pursuit. May this be just the beginning of all our continued efforts to deepen our understanding of and appreciation for the diversity of God’s people.

Sincerely in Christ,

Eugene Cho, Quest Church

Ken Fong, Evergreen Baptist Church of LA

Helen Lee, Author

Kathy Khang, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Soong-Chan Rah, North Park Theological Seminary

Nikki Toyama-Szeto, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

One Chapter Ends. What Will the Next Chapter Be?

The Deadly Viper website is down.

To our Friends and Family: 

Due to an unfortunate conflict that arose around our use of Asian American themes, we have decided to close this chapter of Deadly Viper Character Assassins. This decision has been a very difficult one for us and one that we did not take lightly. 

For the past 2 years we have had the honor to be part of an incredible movement of advocating for radical integrity and grace. We have been deeply humbled hearing your stories of how Deadly Viper has impacted your life, family, and relationships. 

We and our team will continue to commit our lives to the message of integrity, grace, and most of all becoming People Of The Second Chance. 

We thank you for your prayers, support, and kindness through this season. 

We love you. 

Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite

Zondervan’s Official Statement: An Apology for Publishing Deadly Viper

Dear Friends of More Than Serving Tea:

I’ve been in the air for most of the day, and I’m just getting on-line. Have you heard the news? Amazing.

 

November 19, 2009

Zondervan Statement Regarding Concerns Voiced About “Deadly Viper: Character Assassins”

From Moe Girkins, President and CEO

Hello and thanks for your patience.

On behalf of Zondervan, I apologize for publishing Deadly Viper: Character Assassins. It is our mission to offer products that glorify Jesus Christ. This book’s characterizations and visual representations are offensive to many people despite its otherwise solid message.

There is no need for debate on this subject. We are pulling the book and the curriculum in their current forms from stores permanently.

We have taken the criticism and advice we have received to heart. In order to avoid similar episodes in the future, last week I named Stan Gundry as our Editor-in-Chief of all Zondervan products. He will be responsible for making the necessary changes at Zondervan to prevent editorial mistakes like this going forward. We already have begun a dialogue with Christian colleagues in the Asian-American community to deepen our cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Zondervan is committed to publishing Christian content and resources that uplift God and see humanity in its proper perspective in relation to God. We take seriously our call to provide resources that encourage spiritual growth. And, we know there is more to learn by always listening to our critics as well as our advocates.

It would be unfair to take these actions without expressing our love and support for the authors of this book, Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite. Both gentlemen are gifted writers and passionate about their ministry. We do believe their message is valuable and plan to work with the authors to come up with a better presentation of that message. We will jointly ensure we do our due diligence on the appropriateness of the creative side. This will include reaching out to a broad spectrum of cultural experts.

Finally, I want to personally thank Professor Rah, Ken Fong, Eugene Cho and Kathy Khang for their input and prayers during this discussion. We appreciate everyone’s concern and effort and look forward to working together for God’s kingdom.

Warmly,
Moe

A Direct Plea to My Guests Visiting From Angry Asian Man

When I asked my longtime friend Angry Asian Man to get the word out about Zondervan’s Deadly Viper Character Assassins material, I had a funny feeling my little blog here would get some traffic. Let’s just say I felt very popular.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about you. You may never come back to my blog, but the Deadly Viper website, book, dvds, etc. are still out there with mostly random Chinese characters strung together as a “cool” backdrop to an audience that, for the most part, can’t even read Chinese. And here is something pulled from the website:

There is a killer called Zi Qi Qi Ren. No, this is not some communicable disease, but it certainly is deadly. This funky Chinese word literally means “self deception while deceiving others.”

Well, I don’t speak Chinese. I speak Korean and there is this funky Korean word – “Bah-boh”, which literally means stupid. This gimmick and marketing ploy is stupid & ridiculous. It’s a stereotypical mishmash of all things cool and Asian, and the connection between honoring culture and promoting character and integrity gets lost.

It doesn’t honor Asian culture. And as a Christian it doesn’t honor my Christ. I don’t want to see this stuff out there. 

So, to the thousands of visitors from Angry Asian Man, please, please, please let your Angry voices be heard. Personally I have learned a lot from Angry Asian Man and his readers – activists who recognize the injustices in the culture and carried out by the powers that be with a desire to bring about change. I am a Christian. I have not always connected my faith into that type of action and concern. I have been humbled by your energy, passion, commitment and advocacy in the Asian American community and beyond. I am grateful for those of you who haven’t given up on your Christian friends who talk about God but fail to care for the poor, the orphans, the widows right in front of our faces. I’m sorry for the many years I carried around my Bible as if that was the only action of love I could take.

Eugene Cho, Soong-Chan Rah, Chris Heuertz, Nikki Toyama-Szeto &  yours truly – were on the conference call with authors Mike & Jud. Only four of us – Eugene Cho, Soong-Chan Rah, Ken Fong & I – were on that conference call with executives from Zondervan. I believe Zondervan is committed to hearing the concerns. Please help them hear. We need more voices clearly articulating your concerns with both the ethnic/cultural issues and the gender issues. We are committed to further conversations with the authors and Zondervan, but the bigger systemic issues involving how a major Christian publishing house does not understand how this material is not just offensive but contrary to the message of leadership and integrity it hopes to communicate needs more voices at the table.

Please send your comments and concerns directly to Zondervan c/o

jason.vines@zondervan.com


Saying Goodbye to the Green Card – Step 2 & of Course More Deadly Viper

There is another conference call set up for 9 a.m. CST Friday, November 6, with Zondervan execs. Eugene Cho, Soong-Chan Rah and I will represent.

What does Zondervan need to know/understand? What are the cultural and spiritual issues that need to be addressed in a profit-driven system?

Please discuss.

And previously scheduled was my trip to get fingerprinted. I got my study guide for the citizenship exam. I learned that I only have to study the questions with an “*” because I’ve been a legal alien resident for more than 20 years.

And I have to take an English test.

Stop laughing.

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