The Short Story: an Opportunity to Experiment and Dare

‘Just as Steadroy finish mek up he bed under de Big Head, smadee call he name. He freeze … “Papa?” … … … he shiver, looking up de nose-hole of the stone statue, before turning pan he side and resettling heself. De plastic flower an’ dem wha dem lay last Labour Day rustle when he shif’, but after dat, dead silence.

Smadee call he name again.

He tun back pan he back; stare hard pan Papa stone lip an’ dem, looking for even a quiver … … … he choops to heself. Only picknee believe in jumbie. Dead na speak an’ Papa dead long time.’

Excerpt Papa Jumbie by Joanne C. Hillhouse, published in Akashic Books’ Duppy Thursday series

papa

This is an online series and I submitted to it really just for so. As with when I submitted The Cat has Claws to Akashic’s Mondays are Murder (noir) series, I approached it as a writing exercise – a prompt if you will. It was an opportunity to experiment with genres I had never tackled before, noir, and a jumbie/ghost story. While this wasn’t my first attempt at a ghost story, it provided other challenges – one, writing the anti-ghost ghost story (i.e. a ghost story that maybe sort of wasn’t); two, writing the entire story in the Antiguan vernacular(narrative and dialogue both – not that I’m the first to do this but as I typically use English for the narration even when the dialogue is some variation of our Caribbean creole/s, a first for me, I think); third, submit it to a non-Caribbean market. My beta reader (the writer I asked to give me some feedback on it before I revised and submitted) said that while she liked it she wondered if it would be understood and accepted by an editor not steeped in the culture. Only one way to find out. Either it would be rejected, or accepted with edits proposed to make it more crossover, or accepted as is. It was accepted as is, pretty much; they said there would be minor edits but I don’t notice any discernable difference from what I submitted. And the reader response has been positive.

Of course, Akashic, a Brooklyn based independent press, is well familiar with Caribbean authors as it’s published a fair amount of them before, including several of us from various countries in Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean.  So you could argue it had an ear already tuned to our various Caribbean accents. Still. I’m going to count this experiment as a win. Of course, I counted it as a win before it was accepted anywhere; as with each key tap I continue to claim the validity of my voice as an Antiguan writer. Can you hear us without us having to iron out our tongue? Maybe you can, maybe you can’t; but should it inform how we write (and if you say, yes, if you want to publish, well, how much). I believe in being true to the piece I’m writing (to my characters especially but also place) so it doesn’t consciously inform how I write. But, in playing with this piece in particular, I did want to consciously erase that divide between the colourful character voice and the more neutral narrator voice, and twist up my tongue little more, as in my poem Tongue Twista. Mission accomplished.

Another reason it was a win before it was accepted is because there is a certain victory in submitting because #facts writers receive more rejections than acceptances; so you submit knowing you face the crushing blow of rejection. “Crushing blow” is not hyperbole by the way; it’s like swinging a demolition ball and waiting for it to swing back in your direction. When rejection hits, it hurts. Hurts bad. Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing this. But if you want to be a writer publishing, you don’t let that stop you. You meet the challenge and you work to get better.

But what’s the point of submitting short stories to what may or may not be a paying market? Pay is vital (to living) and it does largely inform, especially these days, where I’ll submit, but it’s not why I write nor the only reason I submit. As I said when I posted and as I continuously add to the Opportunities and Opportunities Too, do your due diligence, decide for yourself why you’re submitting and if the market (for whatever reason) is worth it …to you. Only you can decide that, but this article (Don’t Fall Prey to Publishing Scams: 7 New Writer Mistakes to Avoid), underscores that for those who want to write, it’s good practice to try your hand at shorter pieces…and submitting: “Getting your work vetted by contest judges and journal editors gives you the credibility you need to get a legitimate traditional contract or a successful self-publishing career. Don’t spend years writing a novel and then expect it to make a big splash. Start small and build your portfolio and reputation. That’s the way other ‘overnight sensations’ actually did it.”

I write short stories because I enjoy it. Even though I’ve published several books. And especially when the work on longer pieces is dragging. Because it means I’m still writing. I submit because I want to – for reasons as varied as getting paid, cracking new markets, and challenging myself. I research and for my own reasons submit. My research is part of what allows me to continue sharing market information on Wadadli Pen, but it’s primarily researched for my own purposes. I am happy to share the market information and other resources because doing so takes nothing away from me and adds to the growth of our literary community.

And so I suppose the moral of this story is continue to challenge yourself, experiment, and submit – because then even if you receive a rejection, there’s a win already in the daring.

p.s. Here are some links to Antiguan and Barbudan writers who have dared:
A & B Writing in Journals and Contests (A – M)
A & B Writing in Journals and Contests (N – Z)

p.p.s. make use of the links in this post – click and read; I didn’t put them there just for style.

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, Oh Gad!,With Grace, and Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen, my books, and my freelance writing-editing-coaching-workshop services. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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Filed under A & B Lit News Plus, Caribbean Plus Lit News, Links We Love, Literary Gallery

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