#14 – Live In My Sister’s Shadow

I rarely judge a book by its cover, but Graffiti Moon, which was released last Tuesday, is the greatest book in the history of literature. I haven’t read the book, but I make my evaluation based on the book cover.

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I should probably mention that my sister Jamaica Sandoval took the picture adorning the cover. And yes, my sister’s name is Jamaica.

In spring 2011 my sister got an e-mail from someone at Random House Publishing asking if she would be interested in selling the book publisher one of her photos for an upcoming release. Jamaica thought it was a joke, much like people think her name is when they hear it.

A lot of people in my family have artistic talents that we’ve been able to monetize. My Uncle Rene the comedian. My Grandmother Gloria the hairdresser. Me the writer. My sister just so happened to find an interest in photography.

Jamaica takes a camera with her everywhere, and not just the one installed in a phone. Interestingly, however, she rarely shows off her work, instead she usually just posts her photos to flckr.com.

One of the photos she took last year was of her friends inside some sort of large drainage pipe. It’s a wonderful photo, of which I can’t explain the intricacies in how it was created.

A representative from Random House was searching through flickr.com and came across my sister’s picture. The representative offered Jamaica a deal for the rights to the picture, which included monetary incentives for each form of the book. On Tuesday the book was published in hardcover and audio.

Now here’s how I tie in her accomplishment into something I’ve never done before. On Tuesday I lived in my sister’s shadow.

I am six years older than Jamaica, which means that I’ve had a head start in life. Pretty much every milestone she’s reached is one I did six years prior, like graduations and birthdays. Then I started my career when I was 18 years old and my name started to appear in bylines for news outlets and in the credits of TV shows. Those accomplishments casted a big shadow on her, because she witnessed my family put together binders of my article clippings and tune into my TV shows. She watched me receive a lot of praise and attention.

Tuesday was really the first opportunity for my sister’s aspirations to cast a huge shadow over me. So, I visited Barnes & Noble to purchase the book and fully embrace what it felt like not to be the beneficiary of my family’s attention resulting from my sister’s unique accomplishment.

Graffiti Moon is a teen fiction novel, so instead of looking like a weirdo perusing the teen fiction aisles I approached the customer service desk and asked an employee to help me find the book. The woman behind the counter told me the book had just come in and they hadn’t had time to put it on the shelves yet, so she went to the back and got me a copy.

When she returned with the book I felt the need to tell her that my sister did the cover photo for the book. When I did, she told me, “you must be very proud.”

I was proud of my sister, but her accomplishment also hurt me a bit. I’ve been trying to get in touch with publishers for about a year to talk to them about a book I’ve written. It’s been pretty hard to knock down their doors. I wasn’t mad that Random House contacted my sister, but she didn’t go knocking on their door like I had been for a while. For the past few months I had done everything I could to suppress those feelings of jealousy, because I just hoped that she appreciated the accomplishment, because only so many people can say their work is available in a bookstore.

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My work is actually available in a bookstore too, but it’s not nearly as impressive as my sister’s accomplishment. As a result of my time reviewing books for outlets like the Los Angeles Times, I am quoted several times in the second editions of books. More often than not, however, the publisher simply credits the media outlet and not the writer, so I know it’s my words but no one else does. My sister actually gets to see her name in a book.

This is an excerpt from the inside cover of The Chris Farley Show. This was the first book review I did for the LA Times.

My sister’s passion for photography is evident, witnessed by the various cameras and equipment she uses. She also does something that anyone with a particular area of expertise does. She gets frustrated whenever someone is taking a picture in her presence and is having struggles with the camera. I react the same way when someone is writing in my presence. She then can’t explain what the person should be doing, because it’s a talent that comes naturally to her. I call it the Wayne Gretzky syndrome. He was a horrible coach, because he had natural skills, which allowed him to become “The Great One.” When it came time to teaching how to play hockey, he couldn’t pass on a lot of knowledge, because he couldn’t relate to the average player.

I don’t know where my sister is going to take her photography skills. All I know is that the $60 dollars I earned for my first ever published article when I was 18 years old doesn’t compare to the significantly higher amount my sister received from Random House at age 19.

When I paid for the book I once again boasted about my sister, telling the cashier of her accomplishment. Once out the store I sent my sister a picture text message of me holding the book. She responded saying how she hadn’t even seen it yet. Then the other family members hit me up, asking if I had seen it. My sister was officially the talk of the family.

It felt good to live in my sister’s shadow for a day. I truly hope I get to experience that on a regular basis. Hell, maybe she’ll even do the cover photo for my first published book.

Or at the very least I hope she signs my copy of Graffiti Moon.

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