Virtual Book Tour Debut: Kelsey Freeman, No Option but North

“At a time when anti-immigration vitriol substitutes for immigration policy, No Option but North deftly blends heartbreaking migrant accounts with cogent insights into the systemic causes that make the trek north an almost impossible option if you’re poor and from south of the border. Essential reading for anyone who cares about the human rights implications of US immigration policy.” —Antonio Villaraigosa, 41st Mayor of Los Angeles

“This respectful, carefully documented account succeeds in humanizing an issue that often gets obscured by political rhetoric.” —Publishers Weekly

Give us the elevator pitch for your book.

In the thick of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, and through the travel bans his administration issued in 2017, journalist Kelsey Freeman spent nine months interviewing Central American and Mexican migrants in a shelter in central Mexico, along the migrant path. No Option But North interweaves their stories with research and anecdotes from Freeman’s experiences to reveal the fundamental moral quandaries involved in contemporary migration—from the expanding gang violence that drives migrants out of their home countries, to their dearth of legal options on both sides of the border, and more. In the process, Freeman takes us on a harrowing journey that strikes at the heart of the human ability to endure. A timely chronicle of contemporary migration from Central America and Mexico that peels back the layers of privilege underlying American and Mexican migration policies, No Option But North adds powerful color and force to the immigration narrative.

What were your plans for book launch pre-Covid?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I had planned book tours in Colorado and Oregon, as well as several presentations at colleges and universities. I was particularly excited to do a reading at my childhood bookstore, the Tattered Cover in Denver, and return to my hometown (Carbondale, Colorado) to present at the Basalt Public Library and at my high school. Hopefully these in-person events can still take place down the line and bookstores will be able to bounce back from the economic hit.

Where were you when you heard your book tour/ launch was cancelled?

Events were cancelled one by one, so it took me a bit to realize that everything that I had spent months planning would fall through. In early March, my dad asked if I thought COVID-19 would affect launch events and I responded with a resounding no. Two weeks later, I spent a day letting myself mourn the cancelations, but then the next day I turned to focusing on how to connect with readers virtually. This pandemic is certainly shifting everything about how we interact, so the best we can do is shift along with it.

What went into writing and selling your book?

For the past four years, I’ve been entrenched in the process of writing No Option but North and getting it into readers’ hands. I spent a year researching (on a Fulbright grant in Mexico interviewing Central American migrants), a year writing the manuscript, a year pitching publishers and a year in the publishing process. I am a debut author in my twenties, so I knew that finding a publisher would be an uphill battle. As I swallowed rejections, I continued to pitch because I was confident that the themes in No Option but North were crucial and that the book would find a home. In 2019, I found IG Publishing, and together we worked towards a launch that would just happen to coincide with the biggest pandemic in over a century.

What is the weirdest job you held on your path to publication?

When I moved back to the States from Mexico, I worked as an English-Spanish interpreter and a baker, while also finishing the manuscript and looking for full time work. Now I have a great balance between writing and running a college-prep program for Native American high school students through our local community college.

What do you want readers to take away from your book?

The purpose of No Option but North is to cultivate respect and highlight the dignity of migrants as human beings. It highlights that migration is a game of options, or lack thereof. Those that lack certain privileges are more likely to leave their countries but are less likely to have legal avenues for migrating. They then undertake a brutal, violent journey through Mexico and across the border because their alternative choices for survival and decency have run out. I hope that readers see how the structural injustices and inadequacies render these harrowing stories possible and put migrants in impossible situations where truly, their only option is to head north. 

What’s your favorite Indie Book store?

Roundabout Books in my current home of Bend, Oregon is something special! It facilitates the kind of connection that can only come through the magic of books. Their book clubs, author events, and cozy reading corners bring our community together. And even during this pandemic, Roundabout Books has been delivering gift wrapped books to customers’ porches. There’s nothing like opening your door to a book when the weight of the world is getting you down!

Can you recommend one other debut?

Terese Marie Mailhot’s debut Heart Berries is one of my favorite recent books. It is so moving that I would often read a sentence, stop, and marvel at how a particular emotion could be so truthfully described. Searing and real, Heart Berries cuts to the heart of trauma, pain and resiliency.

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