Tag Archives: Eugenia O’Neal

Reading Room and Gallery 32

The Reading Room and Gallery is a space where I share things I come across that I think you might like too  – some are things of beauty, some just bowl me over with their brilliance, some are things I think we could all learn from, some are artistes I want to support by spreading the word, and some just because. Share by excerpting and linking, so to read the full story or see all the images, or other content, you will need to go to the source. No copyright infringement is intended. Let’s continue to support the arts and the artistes by rippling the water together. For earlier installments of the Reading Room and Gallery, use the search feature to the right. This is the 32nd  one which means there are 31 earlier ones (can’t link them all). Remember to keep checking back, this list will grow as I make new finds until it outgrows this page and I move on to the next one.JCH

WRITERS READING

UofM
Reading (1995) at the University of Miami as part of the Caribbean Fiction Writers Summer Institute by Brittany Wivell, Nicola Johnson, Maritza Stanchich, Eugenia O’Neal, Joanne C. Hillhouse, Beatrice Gardiner, Kezia Page, and Omar Garcia. This was my first public reading of my work (ever!) – I come in at about 56:35-ish, but watch the whole thing. (click on the image)

THE INDUSTRY

A “If editing is key to writing, persistence is key to publishing.” – editors’ roundtable w/Jennifer Wortman, Megan Giddings, Luiza Flynn-Goodlett, and Robert James Russell.

***

“Sink into writing. Then when it’s written, come up for air and publish, because if you think about publishing before you finish the book, you’ll be outdated in your thinking by the time the book is complete. Just enjoy writing the story for now.” – C. Hope Clark

***

“This article is all about the trends I have observed in the publishing industry – in terms of manuscript publishers, self-publishing, and literary journals – over the last year or so. The key word in the previous sentence is “I”. This article reflects my personal opinion, and what I have noticed. I write a new/updated version of this article every year.” – Emily Harstone

NON-FICTION

“I think it’s a general misunderstanding, not just his. It’s as if we imagine an old book to be a time machine that brings the writer to us. We buy a book and take it home, and the writer appears before us, asking to be admitted into our company. If we find that the writer’s views are ethnocentric or sexist or racist, we reject the application, and we bar his or her entry into the present.

As the student had put it, I don’t want anyone like that in my house.

I think we’d all be better readers if we realized that it isn’t the writer who’s the time traveler. It’s the reader. When we pick up an old novel, we’re not bringing the novelist into our world and deciding whether he or she is enlightened enough to belong here; we’re journeying into the novelist’s world and taking a look around.” – Brian Morton

FICTION

‘She had told Mr. Peebles things. Not indecent, but personal things. About herself. Her life. How could she not? There they were in her house, in her den, elbow-to-elbow at her family table. To her left: the upright piano at which she’d taken lessons until her teacher quit, citing “personal issues.” (I think I was the person he had issues with, she’d told Mr. Peebles. Said he: Not every pair’s a match.) To her right, a photo gallery of Pam and her brother as babies, as toddlers, as brace-faced pre-teens, photos in front of which Mr. Peebles paced while Pam retrieved his weekly payment from her father.’ – Peanuts aren’t Nuts by Courtney Zoffness

***

“The devil liked being a woman, because in a woman’s body, it could feel the truth. The things the body did when no one was watching, the way it could swallow things, drown parts whole, hide and house people. In a woman’s body, it could feel the weight of her kindness; the restraint it takes to know exactly how easy it is to raze a man’s life but still choose not to—and yes, there was something delicious about being that close to being good. But its patience was running thin.” – Night Wind by Eloghosa Osunde

***

“It must have been a gunshot. I’d know the sound of a .45 anywhere. And it came from upstairs. But I wasn’t going to let my curiosity get the better of me, like my captain in Afghanistan used to warn me.” – from “Our Dirty Little Secrets” by Geoffrey Philp

***

‘Girls do not climb coconut trees,’ he said, tossing the belt over his shoulder. ‘It spoils the nuts.’ – Matalasi by Jenny Bennett-Tuionetoa

VISUAL ART

“More than 20,000 submissions came in representing all genres of travel photography, from street scenes to wildlife. AFAR’s highly respected panel of photography judges selected the winners, whose work we’re proud to present here.” More here.

POETRY

“Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!” – If we must die by Claude McKay

***

“and every deployment
is a Talking Heads song
and every morning
is an invitation to dance
in a pill bottle
and you’re not interested
in keeping busy
and you don’t want
more group texts
and you don’t want
your daughter learning
to shoot a rifle
with the other kids
who aim at a silhouette
of someone’s son
tied to a haystack” – Asking for a Friend by Abby E. Murray

CREATIVES ON CREATING

“After having a baby and becoming a mom, I was super-raw at that point in my life. It was the first time that I would work in the studio during the day. I was about to breast feed and I would put her down for a nap and then come back. It was very kind of daytime-y sober. I felt really present making that record, because normally we’d open a bottle of wine and shit-talk and record at one in the morning. It just wasn’t that anymore.” – Pink discussing her various albums

***

“In a sense, the poem is again about gratitude. There is no regret or there is no even wishing it had not happened. It’s just a realization that we lost ten years of making frittatas together. As a mother and a daughter who loved each other and who love each other, that’s a lot.” – Alice Walker

INTERVIEWS

“I think I always write with the Caribbean in mind.  My voice comes from Grenada and, in my head, that’s my first audience.  In reality, I have to face the fact that my books are often not available in Grenada.  I write for everyone who cares to read, wherever in the world they may be.” – Merle Collins

***

“There was this place in Antigua, The Point, that’s always attracted me. It’s a really fascinating neighborhood. Not only was it a slave burial ground in the 1700s, it was one of the first places in Antigua where slaves started a revolt that led to a big uprising. It’s one of the only tenement yard systems left in Antigua. On top of that — being one of the poorest areas in the island — it shares walls with St. John’s, the capital and a duty-free port for cruise ships.” – Shabier Kirchner, Antiguan and Barbudan filmmaker discussing his short film Dadli. For this and more Antiguan and Barbudan artist interviews, go here.

***

“So many of us writers keep returning to our history of slavery. Why do we keep doing this? It’s because there’s still something to understand and retrieve from that past. Storytelling is a medicine and we are not yet healed.” – Marcia Douglas with Loretta Collins Klobah

***

“‘Not only do black women authors have to find other routes to market their books to mainstream audiences, often times they are even left out of conversations of classic novels within genres like fantasy, horror, science fiction, romance and even cooking. Why do you think black women authors are not recognized in all literary genres?’

‘I think it’s just we get overlooked at times, and it becomes this thing. Like science fiction — apparently black women do not like comics or sci-fi. We know that is not true. But it’s another stereotype that is placed on black women, and we can tell because we have been ignored from these spaces. It’s as if there can’t be any black elves in a story or something that is reflective of our existence.

I’m really proud that we have authors that push against these stereotypes, and can really show what it means to be a black woman in these spaces. I read an incredible science fiction book by Rivers Solomon called An Unkindness of Ghosts. Now, you would think by looking on television or reading books that black women don’t belong in [outer] space, and that’s not true. It’s just a reflection of the limited imaginations people can have, and what we see as futuristic.

All of these genres, like mystery and romance, have incredible writers like Beverly Jenkins. There are so many writers that we just don’t acknowledge in these spaces. But they exist.’ – Glory Idim being interviewed about her book Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves

***

“By the early 70s, we’d moved away from the politics of black power, purely, to a more class based politics.” – Linton Kwesi Johnson

***

“I was inspired to write Caribbean characters into the work I was doing by the fact that I grew up in the islands, and my biological father was Grenadian. I had a wide variety of friends and family who had Caribbean roots growing up. SciFi didn’t have a lot representation of that. As someone who was light-skinned but bi-racial, I was used to being in a culture with a wide variety of skin tones, but wasn’t seeing that in my SciFi much. I didn’t, much to my shock, realize this until I was much older. I had a scales-falling-from-the-eyes moment when I read Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling. He was a white American cyberpunk (a subgenre of SF) writer who set a book in Grenada. When I encountered it, I was so stunned because it exposed a whole gap in mind’s eye: why shouldn’t there be SciFi with Caribbean settings and heroes? And I saw all the stuff that I felt Bruce should have added! After that, I started drawing pictures of starships docked in St. Thomas. I later read Octavia Butler, and that confirmed to me that SciFi could be different than a lot of what I was reading.” – Tobias Buckell

***

“I write for an ideal reader — an actual person who is now dead, but who still sits on my shoulder asking certain questions about authenticity and truth. This ideal reader was a renowned, respected and important author and critic, and he became my friend. I write for him because he represents for me the best in literature, in thinking, in humanity and because I always want to write something that he would like to read.” – Tessa McWatt

***

“How you wear the environment is the key to auditioning” – Mahershala Ali

***

‘Atticus is the quintessential emblem of the “good white Southerner,” of “moral white America.” What I hope that my book will do—by providing the historical context for understanding what Lee was battling with and what she was trying to do with the character of Atticus—is help us be more well-informed about the political struggles that shaped not only her, but also the South and the nation more broadly. Whatever you may think of To Kill a Mockingbird as a piece of fiction, I think that understanding Atticus and critically engaging with how we’ve long been taught certain romanticized notions of racial morality are important for all of us.’ – Joseph Crespino

***

Q. What if you were in a room with aspiring writers? What advice would give to them?

Francie Latour: Read read read read. The best way to become a better writer is to read, and to study the architecture of every good piece of writing you come across.

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Wadadli Pen founder, coordinator, and blogger Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, and With Grace). All Rights Reserved.

Remember to #readAntiguaBarbuda #voteAntiguaBarbuda

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Reading Room and Gallery 22

The Reading Room and Gallery is a space where I share things I come across that I think you might like too  – some are things of beauty, some just bowl me over with their brilliance, some are things I think we could all learn from, some are artistes I want to support by spreading the word, and some just because. Let’s continue to support the arts and the artistes by rippling the water together. For earlier iterations of the Reading Room and Gallery, use the search feature to the right. This is the 22nd one which means there are 21 earlier ones (can’t link them all). Remember to keep checking back, this list will grow as I make new finds until it outgrows this page and I move on to the next one.

AUTHOR PROFILES

‘Goodison, who is married to the author and academic J. Edward Chamberlin, divides her time between Toronto, British Columbia, and Ann Arbor, where she teaches Caribbean literature at the University of Michigan. Though she no longer lives in Jamaica, the country, she insists, will always be the focus of her writing. “Part of it has to do with the sort of ways in which I feel a lot of people don’t know Jamaica,” she says. “They only have one image of Jamaica, from the news, or from meeting some Jamaican person who’s a creep or something, and they think all Jamaicans are like that.” She describes the Jamaica of her childhood as “a very complicated, complex, rich place” but concedes things have gotten worse. Does she feel a responsibility to correct the misconceptions? “I don’t know that I can do that, but I can just tell you — I can be a witness. I can say, ‘In my life I saw this, and I knew this about Jamaica. If it doesn’t exist now, believe me, it used to exist, and hopefully it can exist again.’ ”’ – from She comes through: Lorna Goodison is one of the best writers you’ve never read by Mark Medley

NON FICTION

“I had no way of knowing then the extreme ways we’d learn to hurt one another.” – Give Hostages to Fortune by Mehdi Tavana Okasi

***

“I had this image of throwing yourself out into the water, only to have it spit you back out, over and over again. I didn’t need to ask why he’d kept trying, what he was looking for, because the answer was apparent. If there is nothing where you are coming from, then you are looking for something, for anything. No matter what you find, it will be better than what you had before, it will fill your empty hands. It was like casting a net out, if you were the net, your life unfurling out into an unknown adventure, falling over danger, looking for something to pull back in. I couldn’t imagine the kind of leaving that entailed—where your family faded into a previous life—what home could mean then, if every ship-taking was a search for somewhere else to belong.” – The Texture of Joy: A Stowaway Story by Akwaeke Emezi

CREATIVES ON THE BUSINESS

“While my own experience as an editor informs my approach to my writing, as a writer I’m still learning about working with other editors. Having your personal essay red-inked by someone at The New York Times is a different experience than having your roundup of local Irish pubs tidied up by your regional paper. And working with a professional on a novel you’ve labored over for years is another thing entirely.” – Jessica Strawser on 4 Truths that will Change Your Perspective on the Writer/Editor Relationship

***

“Mastering other things taught me that one becomes something not by wishing to be, but by learning to be. Mastery is the result of hard work. And ardor.  And the slow accretion of knowledge that comes from study and from practice.”- Mary Jo Bang

VISUAL

“After each morning run, we would come home and raid the mango tree.” – go here to view Danielle Boodoo Fortune’s Mango Morning

***

tpa-islandEric Fischl’s A Visit To/A Visit From/The Island uses two adjoining large canvases to contrast vastly disparate groups of people seemingly in the same setting. On the left he depicts what appears to be a white upper-middle-class American family of four vacationing at a sunny, holiday resort. The second panel portrays a frantic scene in which a group of black men and women, who appear to be refugees, try to pull themselves from a bluish black churning sea. Rendered in much darker, ominous hues than those of its counterpart, the frenzied image was based on a photograph of Haitian refugees arriving on the Florida coast. While the two canvases depict jarringly different scenes, the similarities between the images also emphasize their polarity. For instance, both depict foreshortened naked bodies lying diagonally in the foreground, highlighting the stark shifts in color and context between the panels. The relaxed laziness of the tourists pitted against the desperation of the Haitians emphasizes the inequalities between the two groups and the irony in the choices that racial difference and privilege allow—the whites are paying to visit an island that the residents risk their lives to leave.
Artist: Eric Fischl
Image: “A Visit To / A Visit From / The Island,” (1983)
Source: The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York website

CREATIVES ON CREATING

“I haven’t managed to draw my main character yet because even her image is giving me trouble…With Kieran, I learned that he was more than just a warrior and a prince but he has plans of his own.” – Want to know your characters? Try a character sketch by Dana Nuenighoff

***

“Good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognise them when they show up.” – Stephen King and his big desk

***

“Normally I enjoy the writing process, but in this case it was making me miserable. I would spend most of the day procrastinating before sitting down and forcing myself to hit my word count (1000), and even then I would find myself adding adjectives to beef it up. More than once my mother commented on how I’d clearly lost my love for writing, which she found alarming. But I didn’t listen to her because I thought I could get through it and turn my uninteresting story into something worthy of publishing. I was wrong.” – Maria Murnane on When to pull the plug on your book

***

‘We need to be humble and dedicate ourselves to a lifelong study of the craft of writing. What I think he meant by “contempt” is trying to take shortcuts. Becoming a writer must involve reading widely, learning techniques from others and committing to a daily practice of developing the craft. If you don’t do this, if you just write something and publish it, then write more and publish that, then you’re showing contempt for writing.’ – Andrew Blackman reporting on a workshop he attended at the BIM lit fest

***

“Currently completing the fourth draft, stalling somewhat as I approach the last eight passages that I believe need to be added in; experience has taught me that determining the end of a draft is rather like running towards the end of the rainbow.” – Louise Mabey blogging What an Unfinished Novel Looks Like

***

“You have to learn how to interpret and not just imitate” – Jake Gyllenhall, breaking down his process

***

“Don’t tell anyone the story until you’ve written it.  At least this is advice I wish I’d heard and listened to, early on.  I’ve found that if I tell my friends about any story or book I’m working on, I begin to lose enthusiasm for it – not because of their reaction or anything they’ve said but because, having said it, it’s like I feel less need to actually write it.  That’s difficult to explain but perhaps other writers will understand.” – Eugenia O’Neal blogs ‘My Top Writing Tips’

***

“A slight girl with fawn’s eyes offers a plastic cup of water-angels to my mother. A fallen bamboo ceiling swallows the moon whole. There is so much wonder, awe and terror in every gesture, every movement. The moon washes the dust from her face, becomes her true self in the forest. Then it solidifies, comes together…” – Danielle Boodoo Fortune blogging on her Moon Water series of paintings

***

“Here I was trying to get my daughter to stick to a specific formula for writing, and she was forging her own path. What worked best for her was writing by the seat of her pants, starting on the computer and editing as she wrote. The funny thing is, it is the same method I use.” – from One Size Fits All by Jewel Amethyst

***

“On my way home from work tomorrow, I will bring myself to stop at Kinko’s and print out all one-hundred and seventy pages of my crappy first draft. I will hole-bunch the pages, stick it into a three-hole binder and get up Saturday morning, procrastinate a lot, curse out my editor, and then bring myself one step closer to the sweet pain of publication.” – Kara Stevens on what you need to know if you’re serious about becoming an author

POETRY

“Brown men crowd an island hilltop,
voice French-Creole and Spanish,
not the English patois of generations
assembled there before them.” – The Nation Builders by Althea-Romeo Mark, read it on her blog at Aroma Productions or view her reading of it (above) at the Medellin Poetry Festival in Colombia. Romeo-Mark was born in Antigua, grew up in the USVI, and has lived in the US, Africa, the UK, and now Europe.

***

“Unexpectedly,
The street light began
To malfunction,
Coming on and off,
Plunging me into bouts of
Darkness and light.

Buzz, crackle, darkness,
Buzz, crackle, light.” – From Kimolisa Mings’ Dark Warrior

***

***

“What if I told you
I’d never made love before” – from What the Spirit Knows by Soyini Ayanna Forde at SX Salon

***

“I was left there, tutu shredded,

I couldn’t dance

anymore.” – This did not happen by Thylias Moss

INTERVIEW

“Many of my poems start with an image, but these started with language and weaved through images bringing me places I hadn’t been in a while.” – Angela Voras-Hills at the KR Conversations

***

“One thing that I went in to Yale with was to make to sure I left exactly how I came in, because that’s who they accepted. Take what you need, get what you need for your tool belt, but don’t lose the essence of who you are. I think I did it.” – Atlanta’s Bryan Tyree Henry (aka Paper Boi)

***

“The revolution for all Black lives starts in the mind and manifests in the physical, so I hope this book that contains so much true history mixed in with fiction can help people understand that nobody gets free unless we’re all free.” – Brooke Obie

FICTION

“This supposed to be our country. You shouldn’t have to sell your soul to feed yourself.” – Nassau Burning by Keisha Lynne Ellis

***

‘For long minutes he forgot his knobby knees, scars and grizzled body hair. He forgot his big flat feet and narrow buttocks. Her gaze gave him beauty and grace. Her soft eyes pulled him out of his role as Cowboy and into the role of sweet pure lover. “Come, let me bathe you.”’ – The Cowboy’s Mermaid, or, A Story of Wet Love in the Dry World by Shannon Barber

***

“She had looked him down, vaguely surprised and annoyed, with the air of those who are never asked where they are going.” – from Le Silence de Chagos by Shenaz Patel

***

“Sometimes I’d stare in the mid-darkness at how white he was. If I pressed his skin, he’d bruise deep fuchsia and you’d be able to see it even in the dark. I was very dark compared to him. He was so white it was freaky, sometimes. Othertimes it was kind of cool and beautiful, how his skin would glow against mine, how our bodies together looked like art.” – from Gideon by ZZ Packer

***

“You’re in this together now, and some part of you hopes you die together for the sake of simplicity.” – Last Chapter on Hotel Stationary: a Short Story by Ursula Villarreal-Moura

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Caribbean Writers Online

Links to artiste/writer pages from our region

Please note, this page is a work in progress – I’ll add links as I remember or discover – please link back

Antiguan_writers_group_with_Caryl_Phillips_2[1]

From left, Antiguan and Barbudan writers S E James, Joanne C. Hillhouse, Brenda Lee Browne, Akilah Jardine, Marie Elena John w/Kittitian author Caryl Phillips at the Calabash literary festival in Jamaica (2007).

 Antiguan and Barbudan Writers on the Web

 

group photo

This image is from a fiction editing workshop in Guyana and participants included some of the writers listed on this page – Shivaneee Ramlochan, second from left, front; Richard Georges, second from left, back; Nailah Imoja, third from left, front; Ruel Johnson, third from right, back; Felene Cayetano, front, right. (2016)

Barbados

Shakirah Bourne

Babara Ann Chase

Nailah Imoja

Sandra Sealey

Edison T. Williams

Belize

Felene Cayetano

Bermuda

Yesha Townsend

the British Virgin Islands

Richard Georges

Eugenia O’Neal

the Dominican Republic

Junot Diaz

Grenada

Oonya Kempadoo (grew up in Guyana)

Guyana

Maggie Harris

Ruel Johnson

Yolanda T. Marshall

Caribbean Writers Congress with Marin Bethel and Leone Ross 2013

Leone Ross, right, shows up in the Jamaica section. Pictured here at a writers’ conference in Guadeloupe with Joanne C. Hillhouse and Bahamas’ Marion Bethel.

Jamaica

Jacqueline Bishop

Diane Browne

Colin Channer

Kwame Dawes

Jonathan Escoffery

Yashika Graham

Diana McCaulay

Kei Miller

Geoffrey Philp

Leone Ross

Olive Senior

St. Kitts & Nevis

Carol Mitchell 4 by Joanne C Hillhouse

Carol Mitchell is pictured here as a guest presenter at Joanne C. Hillhouse’s Jhohadli Summer Youth Project writing camp in Antigua, 2013.

Carol Mitchell

Caryl Phillips

Suriname

Rihana Jamaludin

Karin Lachmising

Trinidad and Tobago

Lisa Allen-Agostini

Vashti Bowlah

Danielle Boodoo Fortune

Summer Edward

Marsha Gomes-McKie

Sharon Millar

with Sharon Millar

Sharon Millar, left, makes a point at the V I Lit Fest 2015 as Joanne C. Hillhouse listens.

Paula Obe

Shivanee Ramlochan

Leshanta Roop

Lawrence Scott

Liane Spicer

U. S. V. I.

Tiphanie Yanique

 

 

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BLOGGER ON BOOKS II


From about 2006 to 2010, I (Joanne C. Hillhouse) wrote a blog on My Space called ‘Read Anything Good Lately’. In 2010, when I left My Space, that migrated here, sort of; that is, I started adding favourites or books which I found interesting in some way to Wadadli Pen. I’m still moving some of those earlier reviews (and marking them with an asterisk*). That initial posting was called Blogger on Books and continued to late 2012. Which is where this begins. As before, I won’t necessarily write about every book I read, but if there’s something I feel like commenting on, here’s where I’ll do it. Feel free to join in in the comments section and keep checking back, this is a growing list. To see books featured previously just use the site’s search feature and search for ‘Blogger on Books’. Oh and for reviews by others of my books, go here.

40 Dayz by Motion*
A Letter for My Mother
All Over Again by A-dZiko Simba Gegele
The Art of Mali Olatunji: Painterly Photography from Antigua and Barbuda by Mali Olatunji and Paget Henry
BIM Arts for the 21st Century Volume 7
Bob Marley Lyrical Genius by Kwame Dawes*
The Caribbean Writer Volume 26 published by the University of the Virgin Islands
The Caribbean Writer Volume 27 published by the University of the Virgin Islands
The Caribbean Writer Volume 28 published by the University of the Virgin Islands
The Dancing Granny by Ashley Bryan*
Dido’s Prize by Eugenia O’Neal
Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama
Elements of Style by E. B. White and William Strunk
Evening Class by Maeve Binchy
Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan*
Forty Years of Struggle: The Birth of the St. Kitts Labour Movement by Sir Probyn Inniss
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Her Blue Body Everything We Know by Alice Walker
In the Black: New African Canadian Literature by various authors, edited by Althea Prince
Juletane by Miriam Warner-Vieyra
Le Freak: an Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny by Nile Rodgers
Little Rude Boys Girls by Deshawn J. Browne
Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Makeba My Story by Miriam Makeba with James Hall
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice
Mio’s Kingdom by Astrid Lindgren
New Writing: Poetry and Prose
Nobody Go Run Me: the Life and Times of Sir Mclean Emmanuel (King Short Shirt) by Dorbrene O’Marde
On Writing by Stephen King
Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean
Pineapple Rhymes by Veronica Evanson Bernard*
Prince Lestat by Anne Rice
Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer by Ann Morgan
Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World by Jon F. Sensbach
The Shack by William P. Young*
She Sex, Prose & Poetry, Sex & the Caribbean Woman
She Wanted a Love Poem by Kimolisa Mings
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books Volume 8 Number 1 Fall 2015
The Book of Night Women by Marlon James
The Other Tongues: An Introduction to Writing in Gaelic and Scots in Ulster and the West of Scotland
The Road to Wadi Halfa by Claudia Elizabeth Ruth Francis*
The Sugar Barons by Matthew Parker*
Through the Window by Floree Williams
The Whale House and Other Stories by Sharon Millar
The White Witch of Rosehall by Herbert G. de Lisser
Womanspeak
Womanspeak 2013
Writing Down the Vision: Essays and Prophecies by Kei Miller

The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books Volume 8 Number 1 – I was about to check out. This copy of review was feeling a bit of a trial – too thick, too ponderous – I was learning some things but I wasn’t enjoying the reading of it. Then I came across the reprints of writings by Tim Hector which made up the third ‘chapter’ – preceded by writings on Tim and reviews of current books – and was hit by the desire to read on. What was different? Well, I’m not an academic and there’s a clarity of voice and simplicity in terms of use of language that makes for greater readability for one such as me in spite of the heavy themes and historical range of Hector’s subjects and the breadth and depth of his insights. He makes his deep and detailed criticism of the works he tackles accessible to the lay-reader. Worth it for the history lesson in each line; even if it makes you bemoan the lack of such a voice since his death.top

Marlon James’ Book of Night Woman – I kind of hate this book and I also could never turn away from it…if that makes any sense. It is completely absorbing; completely an immersive experience, and because that space and time into which you’re being immersed is a slave plantation in the Caribbean in a time when white men had the power of gods over the lives of black people and wielded that power like the devil, it’s not an easy place to be. But the book also doesn’t allow you the easy, familiar, often simplistic narratives and responses – even as a black person who KNOWS that they were wrong and we were done wrong. As such, and because of the visceral nature of the writing, it feels like an emotional pummeling with next to no relief. Violence is treated casually, just a normal part of life on the plantation, which it was, hard though it is to read – to have, for instance, a vibrant character like Dulcima introduced only to be thrown away in a matter of pages with such deliberateness as if to punish us, the reader, for being foolish enough to care for her, for forgetting where we are. Main character Lilith’s reactions in such times mirror our own or vice versa; she is getting a schooling in the ways of her world as surely as we are. It is also true of the book though that tragedy with no ease up is not the sum total of the slave experience – not when the enslaved African (not the beast his enslaver tells him/herself they are though they will f*ck that animal and have the temerity to act disappointed and hurt when the abused ‘animal’ bites) has the capacity, as most humans do, to love and be loved, to form trust, to dream. Even the one who betrays the rebellion has a dream, after all, a narrative beyond just her role as traitor.  Book of Night Women doesn’t let you stay in your comfort zone of feelings – anger toward whites, empathy toward blacks etc. For instance the first time Lilith has sex with the white man she falls into a ‘love affair’ with, the reader’s feelings are as confused as hers because there’s an eroticism to the writing of it that makes you feel guilty because your brain is telegraphing this is rape, this is rape…only it’s not written like rape…and Lilith is as perplexed as we are by her feelings, musing that the pain makes it easy to remember why you’re supposed to hate but the niceness is dangerous. Needless to say, for me anyway, the book is a roller coaster of emotions and an uneasy narrative …but one you appreciate certainly by book’s end. Yes, the ending is unexpectedly somewhat satisfying, notwithstanding that near the end of the book I had to pause to talk sense to myself, to remind myself not to expect a happy ending – and it’s not, happy – but it left a powerful impression if nothing else of the power of story, of being able to tell your own stories, to write your history as you lived it, not as it was told to you by an other. Long and short of it, Book of Night Women, highly recommend, even if historical fiction (or historical magical realism – as this has some elements of that) really isn’t your thing. Good story is good story and this is a good story.top

The Art of Mali Olatunji: Painterly Photography from Antigua and Barbuda by Mali Olatunji and Paget Henry – I finished this just a few days before Christmas and ended up drafting in a single night a long form review for submission to the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books. In part because I was trying to distract myself from the need to punch someone (long story); in part because the book inspired a lot of thoughts. The images are technically inventive and imaginative, critical and captivating, and sometimes confounding as they explore what Olatunji calls the jumbie aesthetic using his woodism technique, the layering of precise pieces of bark or other parts of trees over specific images to create a commentary on the images and suggest a jumbie perspective. Part coffee table book, part technical photography book, part philosophical read, it’s not entirely clear who the preferred audience for the book is but what’s clear is that this is a photographer with a perspective and the technical skills to indulge it, a human searching for meaning in the world around him, and a man trying to connect with his departed ancestors. It’s an interesting book and I can honestly say I haven’t come across one quite like it before.top

Juletane by Miriam Warner-Vieyra proved to be quite compelling (and melancholy) – though I admit it took a couple of attempts for me to get into it.  Set in the French Caribbean, France, and a Muslim-based African country, this feminist protest novel tracks one woman’s descent into madness after an ill-fated polygamous marriage. The narrative is unambiguous about polygamy (and quite possibly marriage generally) being ill-fated, if you’re a woman. Everything in the book angles towards that; characters not so much inhabiting their world as playing their roles within a narrative with a point to make and a tragic endpoint to get to. Structured as a series of journal entries, the writing is strongest when the title character is at her least lucid, floating between dream and reality. Of course, by virtue of that it’s among the hardest sections of the book to read; delving as it does into a fractured consciousness.top

Whew! That’s my first thought on completing Bob Marley Lyrical Genius by Kwame Dawes, a book I picked up in 2007 at the Calabash festival because one, I’m a Bob fan and two, I’m the kind of music fan who enjoys reading liner notes for the history and insights on how the songs came together. This was more weighty, of course; it dug deep, it felt epic, and, frankly, it was slow going and took me forever…well since the second quarter of 2008 at least. Still, though not as reader friendly as anticipated, it was a worthwhile read and quite insightful in terms of breaking down the lyrics through a social, cultural, political, and personal lens. Also, it reinforces my view that Bob was one of the great songwriters of the rock era, as dismissive as some are of his skills and the weight of his message. Dawes comes to the work as someone who clearly loves the music, knows the culture, and has the chops to break it down musically, lyrically, and in terms of context. It was no doubt challenging, but also inspiring; reminding me of my own desire (some years in the making now) to chronicle Antigua’s calypso journey. One other thing though, more extensive quoting of the song lyrics would have helped, especially with little known or less familiar lyrics.top

Claudia Elizabeth Ruth Francis’ The Road to Wadi Halfa – I actually read this a few years ago, but I can’t find any evidence that I posted my thoughts here, so here…An intriguing read, perhaps the first political spy/international thriller novel by an Antiguan author with ripped from the world headlines immediacy. I felt the plot could have been considerably streamlined but, while it took a while to draw me in, all in all it ratcheted up the tension and invested me as the reader in the outcome. Once I got into it, I was in.top

The Caribbean Writer Volume 28 – It takes me a while to get through the Caribbean Writer (it’s thick, as journals go) but it’s always a worthwhile read for discovering new Caribbean voices and/or re-familiarizing myself with ones I’ve previously enjoyed. In Volume 28, the 2014 edition, favourites included Rebellious Roots by Shelly-ann Harris, At the Karaoke Bar, 21st Century Hotel by Ann Margaret Lim, Rivers by Khalil Nieves, Saint Ignatius by Guillermo Rebollo-Gil, Abeng in Beijing by Fabian Thomas, and The Lemon Cure by Joey Garcia in poems; the short story  Soldier by Jacqueline Bishop; in non-fiction Roster and Genealogy of Emigrants from the British Antilles Settled in Chiloe by Pablo A. Perez; and in reviews Junot Diaz bring Yunior and his Views on Racism and Hyper-Masculinity to El Barrio by Lavern McDonald.top

Maeve Binchy’s Evening Class – in a book with adultery, petty crime, deception, rape, abuse, threats of murder, murder (well, manslaughter), a book that though primarily located in a small village in Ireland moves between world capitals, it’s reassuring to know all’s well that ends well – and it did, no spoilers – that’s just Maeve Binchy for you – lots and lots of characters, richly detailed, the subtle shifting of a society in transition but which still has not lost its soul, a world where dark things happen but the majority of people are essentially good …her books are as ever filing, satisfying, with hints of home…wherever home may be.top

Through the Window by Floree Williams – this didn’t charm me the way her first book Pink Teacups and Blue Dresses did. This is not to say that it lacked charm, the quirk of my lips at odd times in the reading testify to some of that lingering charm – and the prose is as clear and the characters as affecting (yes, affecting) as I’d come to expect. Here, Williams graduates from girlhood to the dramas and ‘dramas’ of young love with mixed results.There’s a breezy rhythm to the telling that makes the story feel buoyant in spite of the angst and drama – contrived or other wise. But it is a mite predictable (it is a romance and they tend to be). At the same time, it is a quick read that will entertain especially but not exclusively lovers of the genre. For those who are not fans of the genre…it’s hard to tell…there’s nothing in particular that sets these characters apart …but I think once you pick it up you’ll get in to it. There is a groundedness to the storytelling that made me care about the outcome – root for Anya to make the right call whatever that is in situations like this – and there was at least one instance where I was still carrying vexness for her when she had clearly already moved on – so Williams does make you care about her characters without being too heavy handed about it. There’s a bit of overwriting in the descriptions – noticeable because simplicity is her style. Plus, the editing and/or proofing could have been tighter (things will slip through the cracks, yes, but I’m inclined to mention it when it proves to be a distraction from the story itself and, if I’m being honest, at times it was). Overall though a light, quick, mostly fun. long lazy day read; and one any one who’s ever been young and in love…and a little bit paranoid…will likely be able to relate to.top

Mio’s Kingdom by the renowned Swedish children’s author Astrid Lindgren…so definitely not a book for my age group. But I found it appealed to my sense of fantasy and adventure – albeit relatively uncomplicated fantasy – and deals with fairly adult concepts such as the loneliness felt by an unloved orphan child, overcoming great – seemingly insurmountable odds, facing death, finding courage even when feeling great fear etc. but in a way relatable to a young child and in a way that resolves it while preserving their innocence. The language is a bit old timey and occasionally rhymey but I actually quite like the in-built poetry of it at times and can see it appealing as a bed time parent child read aloud over a series of nights, given the sometimes lulling effect of the language. And no “lulling” there is not a euphemism for boring, there’s plenty of adventure here to keep young minds entertained (there’s even a flying horse…or hundred). I can picture this book as a film, that’s the other thing, an adventure film with appeal to the same kids and grown-assed-kids (like me) who flock to films like Lord of the Rings. The evil here is pretty straightforward and the magic simple but there’s a certain beauty and appeal in that especially for younger readers. If you’re looking for reads with good lessons, you can’t go wrong here – for instance when Mio promises to stay by his dying friend’s side because the love and companionship of a good friend is worth more than glory. The actual battle is not Helm’s Deep, in fact it’s fairly anti-climatic considering the build-up (so low on the action)…also the adult in me was hoping for some clarity as to why the big Danger had to be this single boy’s quest, and perhaps certain death, while his father remained behind and greeted him with open arms on his return. Huh? Aren’t parents supposed to throw themselves in the way of danger for their kids, not send them in to it …but then I have a feeling that’s the adult in me, only 80 percent not 100 percent committed to the fantasy like a kid might be. Besides the book is from the kid’s perspective and this question never comes up (but adults are gonna adult, you know).  Bottom line, Mio’s Kingdom is fun read-together read for parents and kids alike.top

Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer by Ann Morgan- This phrase “…the linguistic and cultural jolts and jarrings as two languages grind against each other…” inadvertently, I think, drove home Ann Morgan’s point about the awkward beauty of things getting lost in translation. In my Antiguan/Caribbean culture, grinding can call to mind heavy (sometime brutal) teasing or an especially sexy wine (a certain type of dance rooted in Africa and synonymous with the Caribbean where a twerk by any other name is still a wine) involving a man and a woman…guess where my mind went? But, yes, back to the text. What a remarkable undertaking, what a compelling read! I felt genuinely happy at times wading through this highly sourced book which probably just reinforces that I’m a nerdy bibliophile but whatever nerdy bibliophiles need their Carnival rides too. And British writer, Morgan’s project is nothing short of a Carnival ride with its jolts and wide turns, stomach dropping plummets and more. If I’d been there at the beginning when she decided to read the world in a year, I might have said, “girl, yuh crazy?!?” even while rooting for the audacity of the experiment. Likely she felt like giving up along the way (even given her tangible passion for the project) but I’m glad she didn’t. If, like me, you follow Ann’s blog, you’ll have already read her thoughts on the books she read (and if you follow this blog, you might have read her thoughts on some of the Caribbean books she’s read) and even so you might be somewhat surprised that the book isn’t about the books she read nor is it simply about the process though it covers that in spades, and about the community she discovered along the way, even in this vast world

“Many were the mornings when, stumbling bleary-eyed to the computer in the grey half-light of dawn, I was galvanized by an enthusiastic comment, an offer of help, or news that a stranger thousands of miles away had turned up a lead on a story or manuscript for me out of no other impulse than the desire to see me succeed in my endeavor.”

…but it’s primarily about what she learned along the way not just about her own privileges and prejudices but about how the world is configured, about the value of story even in the increasingly IT world (and she has some thoughts on that increasingly IT world as well)

 “Increasingly, what we see reflected back at us when we look for something online is not the world but a reading of our world – a mathematically calculated reflection of the insides of our own heads.”

I understand better the context for her comment in her review of Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean in which my story Amelia at Devil’s Bridge is featured “A number of the writers have chosen to represent the dialects of their characters for a Standard English-speaking reader (so that someone who uses British or American English could pronounce the words phonetically and get them to sound as the characters would say them). While there are practical reasons for this choice, it has the effect of implying a reader who comes from elsewhere…” which mildly bugged me at the time of reading as it does when any critic implies that I’m/we’re deliberately pandering to an American/British audience. Having read Reading the World, however, I understand better that Ann’s concerns are coming from a deepened awareness of the imbalances in the publishing world…and the conscious…and, yes, unconscious influence of colonizing forces, still. Still, assumptions shouldn’t be made. That said, and there’s no denying this, and if the book has an overarching theme, it’s in its reinforcement of the idea that stories can shape and erase culture, can define the character of a nation and speak to one nation’s relationship with another, with another hemisphere, with world history. For someone interested/invested in such issues, this was an illuminating read. For the Caribbean leg of her journey, Ann read Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua and Barbuda), Thine is the Kingdom by Garth Buckner (the Bahamas), Song of Night by Glenville Lovell (Barbados), On Heroes, Lizards and Passion by Zoila Ellis (Belize), Afro-Cuban Tales (Cuentos negros de Cuba) by Lydia Cabrera – translated from the Spanish by Alberto Hernandez-Chiroldes and Lauren Yoder (Cuba), the Snake King of the Kalinago by Grade 6 of Atkinson School (Dominica),  The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Dominican Republic), The Ladies are Upstairs by Merle Collins (Grenada), Buxton Spice by Oonya Kempadoo (Guyana), I am a Japanese Writer (je suis un écrivain japanais) by Dany La Ferriѐre (Haiti), John Crow’s Devil by Marlon James (Jamaica), Only God can make a Tree by Bertram Roach (St. Kitts-Nevis), Neg Maron: Freedom Fighter by Michael Aubertin (St. Lucia), The Moon is Following Me by Cecil Browne (St. Vincent and the Grenadines), and One Scattered Skeleton by Vahni Capildeo (Trinidad and Tobago). If you’re wondering where’s Guadeloupe, Martinique, Montserrat, St. Martin, Anguilla et al… you’ll need to read Ann’s chapter on the nightmare of configuring the world…who knew that this deep in it wasn’t definitive?  For the full list of Ann’s world, check her site or get the book; it’s a worthy addition to your collection – especially for booklovers and among those for those with a particular interest in world literature, and isn’t it all world literature?top

All Over Again by A-dZiko Simba Gegele – I’ll be honest, my copy of All Over Again was inadvertently left behind between switching from one street car to the next in NOLA when I was only one page from the end. This means that I didn’t really get to finish it (I mean I tracked down a copy and read the words but I was no longer in the story); it also means that I don’t have direct quotes (since I don’t have my dog-eared copy to remind me of pieces I absolutely had to share). Buuuut I do know that this Burt Award winning book is one I sincerely recommend especially for young readers, especially boys. It is steeped in the young boy’s perspective with all of its cockeyed (makes perfect sense to me) justifications and frustrations as it episodically moves from one life defining or life changing chapter in his life to the next. The interesting cast of supporting characters include his unintentionally annoying little sister Mary Janga, his mom who practically passes on life lessons to him, his terrifying father who may get him after all, his cousin who is like his moral compass, his arch rival at school, the whole world of ‘unfairness’, and the girl, you know there had to be a girl right? The writer achieves the feat of seating you firmly in his point of view with her use of the second voice, effective use of the second voice; the pacing and comic timing of the book are to be applauded; and yet for all the humour we get a real sense of the all too serious world of the boy, a world not without its struggles including and beyond his personal dramas. Adults will enjoy it, teenagers (it’s intended audience) will be able to relate to it, but as the boy is on the line between boyhood and young adult hood, younger boys may enjoy taking the ride with the boy as well. In fact, I’m pretty sure they will.top

The Dancing Granny by Ashley Bryan – When I wrote this originally, we had just read this at the Cushion Club (the reading club for kids with which I volunteer) and once again Anancy – that enduring character – was front and centre, distracting Granny with the music she couldn’t resist and making off with her food. Anancy will never change, eh! Some say he’s a bad example for young people. I say he’s a testament to the craftiness that can trump sheer muscle; he’s a survivor, just like us. And that makes him a kind of hero as surely as his badmindedness makes him a sort of villain.  Besides, think about it, doesn’t he usually pay for his lyin’, thievin’ ways in the end? This was my and the club’s introduction to Bryan’s very musical narrative – and it had us tapping out beats and making up rhythms for the numerous songs in it. And as he mailed me a handful of his books earlier this year, we’ll be discovering more of his writings. I look forward to it; for the works in their own right, but also because when I had the opportunity to interview him, I found him to be a delight and thought if I could have half the youthfulness and joy and appreciation of life that he has at his age, then I’d be very lucky indeed. ETA: Bit of trivia about my book Musical Youth; Ashley Bryan’s Dancing Granny is the literary work the characters interpret for their summer production.top

The Whale House and Other Stories by Sharon Millar – “She is a Trinidad writer who eschews Port of Spain and the more familiar geographic, ethnic, and emotional landscapes of the land and the literature of the land for something a bit more on the fringe, something not as easily categorized. And she does it masterfully – I almost want to coin something like Mistressly there because she is most decidedly a woman writing women, primarily, and digging into the hurt, grazing her fingers familiarly over the spots where the hurt has scabbed over.” This is an excerpt from my full reaction to (not review of) this book which ran long. Read the full, here.top

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – I read and remember enjoying Jane Austen in college (Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice) though the details are vague now – with the exception of Pride and Prejudice thanks to Kiera Knightly’s Elizabeth Bennett and Matthew Macfadyen’s Mr. Darcypride_and_prejudice_1354 (love that film!)  Still it wasn’t nostalgia that made me pick up a copy of Mansfield Park when the logos ship of books came through one time. Or it might have been, I don’t know, but I know the fact that the book referenced my island-home Antigua (so I’d read) was part of my curiousity. In the end, that became the most difficult bit to separate because when I think of Antigua in the time that Sir Thomas would have visited, I can’t help thinking of the horrific reality of the Africans (my ancestors) working on plantations there (the wealth which made communities like Mansfield Park possible). It didn’t stop me from engaging with the book but there was an awareness  of this genteel, class conscious society being propped up by something much darker. No, what kept me from engaging with it as much as I would have liked was main character Fanny – I just found her judgmental and puritanical and passive(aggressive). Her silent disapproval of the play her peers intended to put on (what’s wrong with putting on a play? Even if for fun and flirtation), her silent (and classist) disapproval of her former home (it’s urban, it’s chaotic, horrors!), her silent disapproval of, well, everything. She’s initially quite sympathetic. Pried from her family and reluctantly brought to the much more affluent but much colder Mansfield Park with the intent of improving her station – but never being allowed to forget her place in her new family. Like Edmund, her (first) cousin, the reader is meant to feel sympathetic toward Fanny and does for the most part but her lack of spirit in time gets wearying. By turns I find myself wanting her to speak up or loosen up, or something, but to be fair she is a young woman from a different time and it is never a good idea to impose your time on the world of the narrative you’re reading (I know this!). And I do agree with Fanny on some things – for instance her disregard for men who like Mr. Crawford play with women’s feelings. Still. By the end, I’m supposed to be charmed by her and convinced of her “mental superiority” and I’m just not – though of her steadiness, longsuffering-ness, and a certain amount of discernment, yes…I suppose. I mean, as far as that discernment goes, okay, yes, I know she was right in the end about Mr. Crawford who turned out to be, as she had correctly assessed, frivolous and all of self, lacking in steadiness and a moral compass. Still, even with that, there’s an awareness on my part that few but ‘perfect’, compassionate, but kinda dull Edmund could stand up to Fanny-level judgment. And (no doubt Fanny’d find my compass broken too but) I never quite got what made Ms. Crawford a villain, as opposed to just a young woman being young (okay, this is a tale of manners so her spiritedness would be contrary in such a world, and yes, she is sort of frivolous; but she was always nice to Fanny who was nothing but cold toward her, so as far as manners go, I find it hard to see Ms. Crawford as the villain she’s meant to be). Fanny’s aunt, Ms. Norris, is a totally different matter altogether – nothing redeeming there. Still, I never feel quite as disapproving as Fanny does of everything and in fact find her censure and weepiness (the only real emotion we see her overtly exhibit) tiring …and tiresome. And this grand inevitable love between her and Edmund, assuming I could put aside my own modern biases and accept that in such times and such families there’s nothing objectionable in marrying your first cousin, I just don’t see any chemistry between them. Friendship, yes, but no more, really. I’m adding this here nonetheless because overall I still find Jane Austen’s crafting of the narrow world of her times and her ability to make drama even when very little happens quite interesting, her subtle way of critiquing that world and its “manners” instructive, and her use of language quite beautiful (so beautiful I found myself quoting long excerpts of it much to the consternation of the fans of my facebook page no doubt). She remains a pioneer in women’s lit (writing at a time when women writers were very scarce indeed). So, if Mansfield Park wasn’t my cup of tea, some of that is my baggage; you may quite enjoy it. For a much more enthusiastic (and frankly, ,more informed) review, read http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10987048/Mansfield-Park-shows-the-dark-side-of-Jane-Austen.html.top

Le Freak – I know I saw Nile Rodgers performing at the Grammys not that long ago – that Daft Punk song, Get Lucky – so I know he’s alive and still making music…right? But the end of his autobiography Le Freak still felt like a cliffhanger. He’d just got a cancer diagnosis, and made a decision to die living rather than live dying. And though I’d seen him since the publication of the book in 2011, my brain still short circuited over, what happened next??! Thank God for Google; according to Wikipedia, he announced in 2013 that he’d beat the cancer. Well. Can you tell that I got caught up? I may not be a fan of reality shows but, though my definition of celebrity is specific to those who rode their talent to success not those famous just because, I certainly understand our obsession with celebrity culture; my enjoyment of celebrity biographies and autobiographies – my ingestion of celebrity ‘news’ – may be categorized as light-hearted distraction but it is somewhat voyeuristic. And in Le Freak, Rodgers throws all the windows and doors wide open and walks around naked. Not just figuratively. Sex, drugs, and the decadence of rock ‘n roll are on full display. But as my friend who recommended it noted, what makes it most interesting, is the insight to the creative process, his creative process. You’ll have a new appreciation for his disco tracks after reading this and new perspective on some of your favourite pop hits. Nile has literally worked with everyone, every one. His take on their interactions and how they worked together make for interesting and enlightening reading. His life is a bit of a horror show at times – seriously, stay away from drugs kids – but there’s no denying that he lived. And created some indelible music that will survive him. And his candor about his struggles with esteem and his creative struggles make Le Freak more than just a voyeuristic thrill, but a real look beyond the flash, at the soul of a man.top

Okay, so I just finished Prince Lestat, the latest in the Vampire Chronicles, a series I fell in love with as an undergraduate in university. I mention that to underscore the fact that Louis, Lestat, Armand, the whole gang and I have been together for a while. I loved Interview with the Vampire, the Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned, Tale of the Body Thief, Memnoch the Devil (when I finally got around to reading it)… these were probably my favourites in the series. I have mixed (like 65/35) feelings about Prince Lestat. Not because it feels overpopulated – though sometimes it does – because some of the back stories were quite fascinating; not because there wasn’t nearly enough Louis – because when he started his melancholy musings at the end, I remembered just how melancholy his musings can be, a reminder that Louis is probably best in small doses. Not because I couldn’t get into the Rose storyline, though I couldn’t. I think because the bulk of the book was all about the build-up (so much so that when Lestat in a fit of pique jumped onto a table and took decisive and bloody action I practically pumped my fist realizing how much inaction there’d been to that point) but then the climax was somewhat anti-climatic – the Brat Prince is now an actual Prince, Prince of the immortals if you will. Meh okay. Someone who’s minded his own business forever and ever is suddenly so easily manipulated (no, I’m not talking about Lestat, and I didn’t buy it, but there’ve been debates and I may be alone in this).The referencing of the book that started it all showed how far Louis has come, though far for Louis is still baby steps, he’s still the most handwringingly human of the blooddrinkers, but it was also a reminder of how self-referential the book felt at times. All that said, I still love this series and you should read the book for yourself – Anne Rice still writes beautifully lush prose, intriguing characters whose moral dilemmas and the choices they lead to can be compelling when they are, narrative which probes at the bigger questions – where do we come from, why are we here, what does it all mean, and as far as Vampire lore is concerned she remains the Don (her Vampires are out there walking the night, they are!). Even a weaker entry in the series is readable if you’re a fan of the series, and if the book reads as a set-up to a new direction in the series, then that means there’ll be more in the series. Right? Right? If you’re not, the book is actually a pretty good primer.top

BIM Arts for the 21st Century – this elder of Caribbean literary journals is as always well balanced and insightful. I am happy to be a part of this collection with my story What’s in a Name. On reflection, and oddly given that I primarily read fiction, I especially enjoyed the poetry followed by the non-fiction sections. My picks for poetry at once accessible, aesthetically pleasing, and rich with layers of meaning are Velma Pollard’s Kicking Daffodils?, Winsome Minott’s Meeting a Fake West Indian – (even the title’s funny, right?), As Usual Thursday Morning by Ann Limm, The Language Situation in Puerto Rico by Loretta Collins Klobah – (and I appreciated the opportunity to read, or attempt to read it, in both English and Spanish), A Birthday Reflection in Verse for Fidel by Kendel Hippolyte, also his Unlife. On the non-fiction side Tennyson S D Joseph’s piece on Hilary Beckles – Ploughing in Hard Soil – was particularly interesting to me. The journal was a balance of revered and new voices, and some that are both new and revered – making for a solid view of some of the best of Caribbean literature now.top

She Wanted A Love Poem by Kimolisa Mings – It’s good to see Kimolisa, a favourite of the Antiguan open mic poetry scene, begin to put her poetry to print. Her self-published collection moves through the stages and variations of love. The best pieces are the mini-stories; the details of mood and moments, character and plot, things observed and things unsaid – as in Ago – laced through her seductive flow, helping to lift some of those stories above the easy clichés of love poetry. Edit: I will add this. I think Kim has talent, I love her flow, but I don’t think this collection is the best of her simply because it feels there are moments that could have been …sharpened, if feels there are times she could have dug a little deeper, it feels there are times when it could have benefited from a critical eye (the specific input of not just a lover of poetry or language, or even a general editor, but a poetry editor in particular). But it’s a pretty engaging read overall with some quite poignant moments and there’s no denying the music (jazz, blues… maybe) in her words and the fact that the collection tries to probe at more than the obvious definitions of love. Look forward to more.top

40 Dayz – Motion – (this is not a new read; it’s newly added here though) – I have to admit I found her Motion in Poetry to be a more satisfying read. But there’s no denying her way with words and the power of her voice. Here are two excerpts from my article on the book, to be published in the Daily Observer: “My favourite section is WombStory and my favourite poem, I think – this changes – blues. Like the blues themselves, it sings of one thing while seeming to sing of another and does so in a tone at once mournful and yearning.”  and “In 40 Dayz, the images flicker in and out, sharp and precise but almost too quick to grasp; in my case a few readings were required for it all to begin to sink in. In the end, I found a collection that startles and questions – no, demands – as it pushes and prods at things.”top

Just finished reading Kei Miller’s Writing Down the Vision and, sigh, wrote the author another fan letter. You’ll remember I did the same after reading Fear of Stones. Let me say this, this book isn’t just for writers and though it’s fairly Jamaican-centric, it’s not just for people from Yard. It’s a book that delves into the social-psychology of what it is to be a Caribbean person and a Caribbean artist writing that Caribbean person in this time. Kei articulates it well.top

The Other Tongues – I didn’t understand half of this but I’m glad I read it…and I think I get the gist in terms of the span and general tone of Scottish writing…interestingly there’s a bleakness in the imagery and experiences that seem, on the surface of it at least, to be the opposite of the Caribbean experience…and yet pull at something very, very familiar and relatable. I kept being drawn to things…a stray line, a stirring image, a sense of a complicated history and people.top

A letter for my mother is an emotional read, and isn’t that an understatement. As one of the contributors, I can honestly say I’m not half as brave as these other women who left everything about the most complex relationship most women have right there on the page. It’s the kind of book that will make you tear up as you encounter the jarring recognition that grown as we are, we are still sometimes just little girls in need of mommy’s love, even as we stand up and move through life, sometimes dragging a bag of hurts behind us, sometimes striding purposefully as she taught us whether through words or in response or opposition to her example. The book is especially powerful because I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that in the African American as in the Caribbean community, you just don’t unpack your personal history like that – not without getting creative about it. Unadorned like that and laid out for other people to chat ‘bout would have taken, to borrow a Junot Diaz turn of phrase “ovarian fortitude”. They likely would have had to retreat to a quiet place inside themselves to where it was okay to be vulnerable. What results is a book that does what so many things claim but fail to to do, it keeps it real. I recommend it for mothers and daughters.top

I just finished reading Volume 27 of the Caribbean Writer and I’m going to hold it to the same high bar it set for Caribbean writers to hurdle over; there were some messy aspects to this issue – the lack of order and absences in the contributor section and the need for additional proofing to address some repetitions and errors that may be a result of formatting leap immediately to mind. But there’s no denying that the United States Virgin Islands publication, under the stewardship of new editor Alscess Lewis-Brown, remains the gateway for new, quality Caribbean voices. Many who themselves now set the bar among modern Caribbean writers saw some of their earliest works published here. And now we have – among my favourites from Volume 27, the 2013 issue:–

Yashika Graham’s Directions from the Border (in which she maps the way to her place of origin and her heart in the uniquely Caribbean way of giving directions), Figment (in which she uses language beautifully to map the empty space between daughter and daddy), and My Mother (a loving ode to same) – her first publications in print according to her public facebook page; fellow Jamaican, award winning poet Monica Minott’s instructive and evocative Reggae Until Jesus Come and in celebration of another musical icon, Shabba; Rashad Braithwaite’s rumination on geography and opportunity in We Who were born of the Ocean; Rohan Facey’s brief but striking Postcard Image and the Artful Fist, both about illusion and reality; Darryl Roberts’ Tourist and I want to Learn Flamenco Guitar, both capturing certain rhythms of island life; Shanarae Matthew-Edwards’ nostalgic and somewhat epic Fish and Fungi; Antiguan-Dominican Glen Toussaint’s booming Dat; and, rounding out my poetry favourites, Joey Garcia’s haunting Deep.

Whew! How’s that for an over-loaded sentence!?!

The short fiction list is lighter though, since fiction is my love, no less significant. The ones I dog-eared, and mention them here hoping you’ll keep an eye out for these stories and the writers who penned them, Lizards by L J Swanson; My Jumby by Jody Rathgeb; the Annual Christmas Cuss-out by Cheryl Corbin; the Imported Wife by Dwight Thompson; The Hechicera’s Ace by John Russo; Miss Tally’s Last Dance by Ashley Ruth-Bernier; Island Joe by Ryan Rising; Where Dreams Die by DC Laidler; and Paradise Just for Us by Rosalyn Rossignol.

Yes, here you will find some of the all too familiar tropes of Caribbean fiction, and it’s a challenge to not allow ourselves to be ensnared by them, but there are also write-arounds, jump-overs, and the turning of fresh soil in some of these pieces, all of which made for entertaining – and sometimes, deep – reading.

Thanks to the reviews, some new selections are added to my to-read list. Well, some like Dorbrene O’Marde’s Nobody Go Run Me, which I’ve recently been invited to review by the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books have already been read, but D. Gisele Isaac’s enthusiastic review, not always in agreement with the author always engaged by him, make me eager to revisit it. Edwidge Dandicat’s Claire of the Sea Light was already on my to-read list, because I have never not absolutely loved anything she’s written, but Patricia Harkins-Pierre’s review provided additional incentive. New to the to-read list, though, are Frank Mills’ The Last Witness, reviewed by S. B. Jones-Hendrickson because, hello, a Caribbean murder mystery, the very idea intrigues; Ann Margaret Lim’s Festival of Wild Orchid, reviewed by Loretta Collins Koblah, who stands tall among contemporary Caribbean poets in her own right; and And Sometimes they Fly by Robert Edison Sandiford, a most interesting and unusual read based on the review by H. Nigel Thomas.

A feature of The Caribbean Writer – in addition to sharing new works by new and established writers, introducing additions to the Caribbean canon, coverage of a wide cross section of genres – that make it a tribute to everything Caribbean arts is the tributes section where even when you don’t know the artiste, the writing can make you feel the loss of that, such was the case with Jane Coombes detailed and stirring tribute to Smokey Pratt

I must add that it’s thrilling to have several of my pieces – poetry, fiction, and an extract from a screenplay – included in the Caribbean Writer Volume 27, it’s been a long journey from that first, first of many rejections, to this point, even knowing that this is not a point of arrival, because with the Caribbean Writer you have to earn your place every time, which is as it should be as they continue to set the bar for good writing in the Caribbean.top

The White Witch of Rosehallwas interesting to me not so much for the character themselves (in fact, their limited dimensionality was one of the book’s shortcomings in my view) but what it says about the nature of Caribbean slave society – the sickness that it was to all involved. In such a situation, the tale suggested, it’s inevitable to become infected with either megalomania or mistrust; and given that the tale is set in a time when Jamaica is on the cusp of an uprising of the enslaved people, all involved would have been well advised to sleep with one eye open. It all moves very quickly, three weeks, give or take, from beginning to end, too quickly for all that happens to the characters internally (from how the main character adapts to the world to how suddenly and unbelievably outside of a Mills and Boon maybe the various romances manifest. But the detailed rendering of atmosphere and setting, most of it filtered through the newbie eyes of the main character, does attempt and largely succeed in slowing the pace, and grounding the story. I also think that though the language and narrative style is understandably dated (the book was first published in the early 1900s and the story is set in early 1800s), the writer has a good sense of the layers of meanings in words or in certain words grouped together, and of the weight of the situation he reports upon, so for all that’s unlikely about it, it did from time to time prompt me to pause and reflect. So, while it’s not a favourite, it was not without effect. One of the book’s strengths is its effective handling of the supernatural elements – there is a spook factor that both the characters and readers are aware of – though with reactions ranging from fear to doubt to something like, well maybe. The end itself holds no surprise though I realized that I had come to care, however mildly, when news of Rider’s fate stirred a tinge of regret. I’m sharing my thoughts on it because, all told, I’m glad I read it finally, this classic of West Indian literature based on a reality that haunts the Caribbean to this day.top

Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean – Outstanding entries from the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story Prize with a preface by Olive Senior. I just finished reading this collection and it’s a good one. I really liked most of the stories but my top five might be Janice Lynn Mather’s Mango Summer, Sharon Millar’s The Whale House, Barbara Jenkins’ A Good Friday, Ivory Kelly’s The Thing We Call Love, and Dwight Thompson’s The Science of Salvation possibly tied up with Kimmisha Thomas’ Berry. But it really comes down to preference because the crafting of all of these stories is exquisite and …experimental, and the Caribbean landscape they reveal has shadows, not just sunlight; there is heart and humanity but there is also darkness. Really well done; and I’m happy to be a part of it.top

I’ve owned Strunk and White’s Elements of Style since my college days; I re-read it recently prompted by Stephen King after reading his On Writing in which he really talked it up as the definitive book on writing. On re-read, I found myself tugging against some of the rules but even then have to admit that S & W though somewhat conservative know their stuff and back up their chat. So that just as you’re tugging against “Do Not Use Dialect”, which I’ve been known to do, you have to admit they have a point when they complete that thought with “Unless Your Ear is Good”. Their information is sounder than sound; so much so you’ll find yourself re-learning grammar, vocabulary, and writing rules you forgot…and, frankly, learning some for the first time. Bottom line, if you’re a writer or want to be one, it’s a good an essential reference book to have to hand. You’ll need to refer to it again…I know I will.top

She Sex, Prose & Poetry, Sex & the Caribbean Woman (edited by Paula Obe and Carol N. Hosein) – Just finished reading She Sex Prose & Poetry, Sex & the Caribbean Woman (edited by Paula Obe and Carol N. Hosein), a collection of writing by Caribbean women. The fact that I took this long to read this is not an indication of its quality, as I actually recommend it as a read and not just because I’ve got pieces in it. In fact, true confession, I’m not terribly confident about the two pieces selected for the collection. Another true confession, I write more poetry than fiction probably but I feel more sure-footed in the world of fiction. Of my pieces in the collection, One is probably my favourite; it grew out of a visual prompt, a painting by Antiguan artist Glenroy Aaron. I remember the thing that struck me about the image was how intertwined the man and woman were, almost like they were extensions of the same body; hence the poem title ‘One’ – “I want to be so deep inside you/it be like/I’m wearing your skin/when I touch your nipple/it be my lips tingling.” Though it’s blatantly physical, I wanted to suggest emotional intimacy equal to or beyond the physical, and I wanted it to feel like a seduction not at the beginning of a relationship when they barely know each other, but when they’re already in – deep. My other piece – “A Religious Experience” is borderline sacrilegious since it’s using sacred terminology for something considerably less sacred. But the choice of terminology is meant to suggest the reverence with which they’ve embraced this connection they have – “and so we prayed/then the breeze sang a Holy song.”  I’m hoping their selection suggests that I communicated something of what I was trying to communicate. But you, readers, will be the judge. As reader, my favourites included: READ ON.top

Dido’s Prize by Eugenia O’Neal – Dido’s Prize is old school romance like I haven’t read in a good long while – you know the template; boy meets girl, he tall dark and strapping, she a beautiful spitfire, they feel something intense for each other but amidst misunderstandings and other obstacles tug-o-war until inevitably they find their way to their happily ever after. That’s not a spoiler – that’s what this genre promises. That is to say that like most romance novels you know the end from the beginning because in romance novels the hero always gets the girl and the girl always gets her man. But its alignment with the genre notwithstanding, in Dido’s Prize, British Virgin Islands author Eugenia O’Neal deftly ups the ante – intricately weaving in tension, excitement, and uncertainty –  by setting her historical romance against a backdrop of piracy and adventure. Pirates are popular these days, from Pirates of the Caribbean to Black Sails. But you’ve never met a pirate quite like this plucky heroine who masques her true identity and holds her own as deals with the uncomfortable realities of being a woman on a ship full of rowdy men. By turns spirited and fool hardy, Dido’s a pirate you root for – but still a pirate who tries to hang on to her principles even as she gets her hands bloody.  what Dido’s Prize does that most pop culture pirate tales don’t is meet the reality of the world – the reality of slavery (and misogyny) in their world – head on (well, not as head on as say Roots or 12 Years a Slave but it doesn’t ignore it as they do in the world of Captain Jack). Kudos to O’Neal for managing that; for confronting the harsh realities of that world and yet keeping the story buoyant –  not always edge of your seat but never dull. But because she adhered so closely to historical reality I doubted at times, even as I had my fingers crossed for, O’Neal’s ability to deliver on the happily ever after; especially as the pages wound down and the lovers remained separated – him beaten and facing the hangman’s noose, her resolved to free him and sail off into the sunset. Together. But deliver she did, even managing to make it somewhat believable that despite the realities of a world in which people who look like our heroine and her hero are commonly enslaved, they could find a space where they, their families, and a whole community of others like them could live free. And to do so in a way that feels, okay a little bit fanciful, but not strictly speaking out of sync with history. It’s my kind of romance; there’s too much else going on – pirate raids, slave rebellions etc. – for me to get bored, as I’ve been known to do, given the predictability of the genre. In fact, not only did I enjoy reading Dido’s Prize (which I won in an online contest on O’Neal’s website), if it did make it to the big screen, it’d be a fresh take on the genre of pirate films, one I’d pay good money to see. Think Hollywood would go for it?top

Little Rude Boys Girls by Deshawn Browne– First things first, the author of this book was 12 years old at the time it was published – the book and his improved grades came of a challenge put to him by the book’s publisher Dr. Noel Howell, a doctor and filmmaker who seems to have made it something of a mission to work with talented young people. I wasn’t keen to read and review the book because the authors’ a kid; so one, I’m not really the market, two, if I didn’t like it I couldn’t say that I did and I didn’t want to discourage a young boy admirably rising to a challenge. After all challenging young people to realize their potential and find their voice is what Wadadli Pen is all about. So the book’s merits or demerits as a literary work wasn’t really the point….I read it recently and while it’s not a masterpiece, it delivers an entertaining story with a bonus moral arc to its demographic (late primary boys and girls) and was quite enjoyable (for me, an adult). It’s a book about rivalries (harmless rivalry between boys and girls), family, and, unexpectedly, HIV/AIDS – it’s about pushing yourself, rising to the occasion. It reads less like fiction and more like a pretty detailed and vivid how I spent my summer – a very organized, episodically plotted, lively report from the perspective of a mischievous narrator who shows growth by the story’s end. I suspect good editing is also at play here but the young writer also has good story sense. It’s a bit overcrowded – a lot of characters to keep track of and not enough shading to give you a real sense of them beyond the roles they play in the book – but it’s neither exhausting nor, at the other end, is it ever dull. In fact it’s pretty satisfying and in the end shows itself to have a lot of heart, as well. I’d definitely recommend the author take some writing classes as he continues to grow and he may, down the road, have a book that is closer to a masterpiece in him because I’d say there’s potential there.top

Womanspeak (2013) – This is a well ordered collection, at times inspirational, at times provocative, at times beautiful, at times disturbing, universally insightful. It is also a fun and compelling read. Fun is an odd word for it given that this edition of Womanspeak speaks so profoundly to so much of what women go through and yet as the language wraps its colourful self around ideas of self and independence and the other big issues women grapple with it is, fun. I am delighted to be a part of it, happy that my poems and short story feel a part of it, part of this community of women Bahamas’ Lynn Sweeting has called together on the page. From a purely reader standpoint, my favourites included Althea Romeo-Mark’s A Kind of Refugee/Living in Limbo (which I may or may not have read before, I can’t be sure, in her collection If Only the Dust would Settle) from the essays section which also included interesting entries by Vahni and Leila Capildeo, Victoria Sarne, and Ashley Akerberg – stories that show women finding their footing with the rug pulled out from under them and to reference the Capildeo piece, “(creating) better circumstances, not the endless coping with situations”. In the fiction section which opens the journal, I think I responded to each of the stories on some level – landing each in the favourites category as well. My lip curled up in distaste three short paragraphs into Vashti Bowlah’s Vindira’s Day, a strong opener to the collection. My displeasure wasn’t with the story but with the man who was so distasteful he hadn’t even done anything to that yet and I already wanted to wash him off me. In Cherise A. Charleswell’s story, the way the story describes the character’s reaction to the male gaze and the pssst is very familiar to me; could relate as well to the way some became particularly menacing, the way you can feel abused by those encounters, even when nothing specific happens, even though it’s not something others would describe as particularly abusive. I was reading Shakira Bourne’s story We always smile for Photos in two places (it’s also in the Trinidad and Tobago anthology She Sex) and liked both experiences of it, and especially her use of irony; as I did the use of detail and the foreshadowing in the pre-Columbian world of Rhonda Claridge’s In the Distant Waters Land. The poetry section was rich as well, and I found myself finding things to like, images and insights that stopped me, even in the poems I didn’t love-love like the mother and daughter murdered for making a video of themselves laughing in the rain (Lynn Sweeting who also writes profoundly of masks and priorities in I like the Disguise). Poems to make you ponder, as Angelique Nixon’s Occupying Dissent Long Time if we haven’t in fact gone back to sleep despite its assertion that this is our time and its challenge to “us to stay woke together”; poems like ARM’s that make you marvel at the way she grounds the poems with earth-bound details – “rain-soaked clothes (clinging) to her frame. Cold (gnawing) at her shoulders. Her beige skirt, grass-stained, (and) hemmed in mud” – and yet untethers them with more abstract imagery – “dark clouds (crossing) her moon. Her thoughts (scattering) leaves after a storm”; poems, defiant in spirit like Opal Palmer Adisa’s; poems that pack a punch like Lynn Sweeting’s Woman of God which is stronger for its simple telling sans editorializing of an encounter between a pious woman and a domestic violence survivor. This is not passive poetry…these are revolutionary pieces about women’s (and men’s – e.g. “the forest man willing to die rather than step aside for the bulldozers because without the forest he will die anyway” – LS) encounters with the ‘justice’ system, about the failure of love, their anger, their defiance…and yet there is considerable beauty (variously dark or delicate but beauty nonetheless) to be found in poems like Charlotte Dunn’s Sea Grape Leaf Jump, Tanya Evanson’s Apocalypsiata…other poems that come to mind for various reasons as I write this reflection on a stirring collection are Anita Macdonald’s Seized, Sonia Farmer’s This is not a Fairytale, Nancy anne Miller’s Life Jacket, and Attilah Springer’s Dance Pretty Fight Deadly. In the fairy tale section – yes, there is a fairy tale section – my favourite was probably Barbara Arrindell’s feminist spin on an anansi tale – though there was much I liked about Brenda Lee and Lelawatee’s tales as well, most especially their freshness in an under-developed genre, stories perfect for that stage of childhood where you’re defining reality through imagination. In some way that’s all stages of life if you’re open to seeing…and if you’re open to seeing one of the impressions this collection makes is the precariousness and fragility of reality and on the other hand the strength and strategizing required to be a woman in the Caribbean, and in the world.top

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones – The thing Tayari does in this story that I find fascinating is how she ‘plays’ with the reader, this reader’s, emotions…I don’t mean that in a negative way….but…the story starts with the perspective of the daughter of the other woman, a girl who is always second best, or so it seems to her, in her father’s affections compared to his ‘real’ daughter and his ‘real’ family. We see the lawful wife and child as the other, the villains of the piece if you will, and the father as a weak man. Then, just when we think we have a handle on how we’re supposed to see this, how we’re supposed to feel about it, Tayari flips the script on us. Suddenly we’re in the perspective of the legitimate daughter, and suddenly she is the sympathetic one, and the one we’ve been following is, if not a villain, then a perplexing mystery. We find ourselves liking and feeling for this second daughter and her mother with equal passion, and even liking the father a little bit, seeing him, as we are, through the eyes of the daughter who has no reason to find him lacking. So, who’s the bad guy, who’s the good guy? In Silver Sparrow, as in life, it’s complicated. In Silver Sparrow, as in life, things just sort of unravel…and in Silver Sparrow, as in life, the ending is bittersweet…no happily ever after, no matter what the fairytales promise. And yet, like a fairytale, Tayari makes the meeting of hearts, as pedestrian and messy as it gets, seem magical, fated, and epic:

“And this is how it started. Just with coffee and the exchange of their long stories. Love can be incremental. Predicaments, too. Coffee can start a life just as it can start a day. This is the meeting of two people who were destined to love from before they were born, from before they made choices that would complicate their lives. This love just rolled toward my mother as though she were standing at the bottom of a steep hill. Mother had no hand in this, only heart.”

Part of the genius of her approach is the telling of the story from the perspective of the children – the two daughters – on opposite sides of the story because of their mothers and their love for their mothers and their desire to be first in their father’s heart, but bound to each other in a way their mothers would never be and their father could never understand. They are both heartbreaking, these girls, and if I feel any dissatisfaction with the novel it’s in the way that it swings back, at the end, to the daughter we first meet, as though we haven’t come to know and care about the ‘other’ daughter as well, and aren’t just as curious about what became of her (or her take on it), after. SIDEBAR: I met Tayari, sort of, in summer 2012 when I went to a joint reading she did in New York with another favourite of mine (Judy Blume). Wrote about it here. And I had the opportunity to meet her when she came to Antigua last year, but, regrettably, missed that opportunity. I prefer meeting the writers I like on the pages of their books anyway; this is the first book I’ve read for Tayari (though I follow her blog and fb page) and she is officially an author I like. top

Nobody Go Run Me: the Life and Times of Sir Mclean Emmanuel by Dorbrene O’Marde is, in my estimation, a perfect marriage of writer and subject. O’Marde knows the players and the context of his story well, he respects them but isn’t hesitant to critique them. He understands the link between the movements in the world of calypso and the real world movements that inspired or were inspired by them. He has unprecedented access to personalities and insights that flesh out the tale, and he clearly knows and loves the art form.Read more.top

“Okay so, On Writing by Stephen King, mi lub dis book bad (English translation: I really liked this book). It’s hard to know where to begin with the sharing because it’s so bookmarked. What I can say, in general, is that it reads more like a memoir than a how-to book though at the end you will have learned a thing or two about how-to…including that some of it is a kind of magic that is unexplainable even to the person doing it, a fact King acknowledges up front when he said, “…most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included don’t understand very much about what they do – not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad.” And yet the only thing I disagreed with King about was the change of a character’s name in an edit of a sample from one of his stories at the end of the book; because the man knows his stuff and he reinforced some of what I already knew and added to it, teaching me new things. And because the book is memoir style, he teaches mostly by doing; as we read the stories of his childhood we’re learning how to tell a good story and then, bonus, he connects the dots. I’ll share some of my favourite bits.top

“I have climbed back into life over and over on a ladder made of words…” So Alice Walker says in the preface of Her Blue Body Everything We Know. There some crisp imagery especially in the Africa pieces, which are like emotional snapshots. Those are almost serene next to the angrier, lengthier, America pieces and the introspective anti-romantic pieces such as Warning which says, “to love a man wholly/love him/feet first/head down/eyes cold/closed/in depression”.  One of my favourites among the latter is Never Offer Your Heart to Someone Who Eats Hearts – don’t you just love that title – as dark and cynical a piece as you’ll find in this collection but which ends on a hopeful note.  There’s one about Janie Crawford, you know from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God; loved that one too because it pretty much sums up how I saw the Janie character.  I liked the one about Lorraine Hansberry too which is really about the fortitude it takes to be a revolutionary.  Another of my favourites is How Poems Are Made: A Discredited View, “to the upbeat flight of memories./The flagged beats of the running heart.”  I also liked Songless which asks “what is the point of being artists if we cannot save our life?” ; Each One, Pull One – another Hansberry inspired piece – in which Alice charges, “we must say it all, and as clearly as we can. For, even before we are dead, they are busy trying to bury us.” There are blatant activist pieces like These Days which I liked and you realize that for Alice writing is always political. And there is something searching and beautiful there too as in another of my favourites If There Was Any Justice in which she communes sort of with a favourite artist of mine Van Gogh.  Two of the stronger pieces, for me, come near the end: A Woman is not a Potted Plant and Winnie Mandela, We Love You. I realize as I’m writing this that I actually liked this collection more than I realized, I read it over weeks of bus rides, bookmarking as I went. I shouldn’t be surprised. Alice is ever one of the more stimulating writers I’ve found, stimulating in that reading her work is not a passive exercise, it makes you think, feel, engage, write, and even without all that, there is enough truth here that I couldn’t dismiss it even if I had a mind to:

In These Dissenting Times

To acknowledge our ancestors means
we are aware that we did not make
ourselves, that the line stretches
all the way back, perhaps, to God; or
to Gods. We remember them because it
is an easy thing to forget: that we
are not the first to suffer, rebel,
fight, love and die. The grace with
which we embrace life, in spite of
the pain, the sorrows, is always a
measure of what has gone before.

I feel like saying, amen.top

I like autobiographies. No surprise then that every time I left the house for the bus stop, I usually grabbed Makeba: My Story (by Miriam Makeba with James Hall) from by current active pile of books. It was more than that though. She is an interesting person who’s led an amazing life and whose story, as if that weren’t enough, is part of the tale of the shameful story of apartheid South Africa. There was weirdly so much that was relatable in this book (certain customs and attitudes really did travel with my ancestors across the Atlantic) but there is much as well that’s distant from my own experience (perhaps closer to what my ancestors would have experienced in a world when and where they were considered less than human). The reason I most liked this book, however, is that I was almost utterly charmed by Miriam; I say almost because there is one chapter much later on that hasn’t settled…we are, none of us, perfect….but her humility, her talent, her passion all make for a very charming tale indeed, even amidst the tragedies of her life. Here’s a taste of her music:top

Forty Years of Struggle: the Birth of the St. Kitts Labour Movement by Sir Probyn Inniss – This is not something I would normally pick up but the author (a teacher, lawyer and former Governor) and I met during a reading at Greenland Books and Things in St. Kitts and gave me a copy. As I’d found his reading interesting – mostly for how similar the experiences of these islands are when all is said and done – I decided to give it a go. it was an interesting read. Of course, the book makes a case for the uniqueness of St. Kitts colonial era experience and in so doing suggests that things weren’t as rough on other islands. I suspect those in neighbouring islands like Antigua who lived through the post-Emancipation, contract laws binding adult workers and their offspring to plantations (like slaves), and pre and post labour days would have their own – contradictory – opinion on that; hell, I didn’t live it and I found myself being contradictory on occasion while reading. For example: “Antigua, by contrast, experienced better relations between the different classes and racial groups. This was evident in Antigua since the early nineteenth century and no doubt contributed to the fact that Antigua had no Apprenticeship period, moving from slavery to full freedom in 1834.” Really? Yes, we had no apprenticeship but not because things were sweet as mango between the planter class and the working class…Statements like this made me question some of the book’s other judgments (not the facts, the book stands strong on facts, but the  conclusions reached based on those facts). That said, it’s an important perspective, one that sits on the same shelf as books like Antigua and Barbuda’s To Shoot Hard Labour and (I suspect since I haven’t actually read it) No Easy Pushover both by Keithlyn Smith. That it explores – beyond the broad division between the two main classes of people, the white planter class and the black working class, and the ways their history shaped a society defined by race-based value and deep power imbalances as a result – the Portuguese and middle Eastern (Syrian, Lebanese) immigrants that came to dominate retail commerce and other areas of business, and the complex relationship between the Eastern Caribbean and the Dominican Republic (in particular the export of workers from these parts for work in the cane fields of the Spanish nation and their poor treatment there…a reversal of which we are now experiencing) adds a dynamic that’s important to understanding the social history and reality of our countries. One lingering question the one posed by the writer at the end is how much has really changed, how fully have we embraced the opportunity to move beyond the patterns put in place by colonial era politics that did not favour (in fact had no real interest in) the working man (the black working man). That’s a question with resonance in St. Kitts, in Antigua, and no doubt in other parts of the region.top

Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice -*warning: this is a long one* – I’ve read a fair amount of Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire, Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned, Tale of the Body Thief, Cry to Heaven, The Witching Hour, Blackwood Farm and some others) but not in a good long while. I remember thinking that Memnoch the Devil wasn’t for me…probably the girl that was raised Catholic including Catholic school, Holy Communion, Confirmation classes etc  unconsciously turning from the perceived blasphemy. I say unconsciously because chances are if I thought it was so I would no doubt have read it in rebellion (another characteristic of Catholic girls). No, I think at the time I had just become disenchanted with the authoress I discovered in my college years, the same way I eventually became disenchanted with romance novels and other genres I consumed once upon a time but don’t feel particularly drawn to now. So I have to give mad props to Glen of Best of Books Antigua for his ambush sale of Memnoch the Devil, thanks for re-introducing me to one of my favourite writers. This book remind me of all the reasons the reader and writer in me was drawn to Rice’s writing in the first place. She is a boundary pusher and rule breaker – the ultimate Catholic girl rebel – on an epic scale. You kind of feel like you’re pissing God off a little bit by reading it, as much as Memnoch did with all his questioning, but you read on anyway (like him, you can’t help yourself). Re writing rules, as far as exposition is concerned, teachers often rap our knuckles with show don’t tell show don’t tell…well huge sections of Memnoch is exposition, there’s some showing but there’s a fair amount of telling as well…but it never feels dull in part because one of Anne’s signatures is the delicious descriptiveness of her narrative. Her words are alive so that even when nothing in particular is happening, the grass is growing, can’t you hear it? You know what I mean, she milks sensation from each moment so that even the still moments are not stagnant. Another rule, pare it back, don’t overwrite…hm, well, Anne’s writing is as lush and showy/flamboyant as a Caribbean sunset, and just as beautiful. The atmosphere she created in rendering the New Orleans setting of so many of her stories is part of what landed this city on my bucket list, half doubting that the actual city can live up to the one that lives in my imagination. She doesn’t rush the moments and at the same time creates amazing tension, hooking the reader to turn the next page and the next and the next even as nothing much more happens than one Being in conversation with another Being, trying to make his case. I love her writing – lines like “the story devoured the night” – I really do and I’m glad I was reminded of that. Let me say a word about genre. I don’t really believe in genre-fiction. I read what I read, I like what I like, genre be damned; and I really feel that folks who dismiss not just Memnoch but Rice’s Vampire chronicles (and this can apply to other of her supernatural fare) are missing out. She’s a great storyteller and I look forward to reading both Servant of the Bones, thanks to the teaser at the back of Memnoch, and the Wolf Gift (because, yeah, I guess the idea of were-fic in Anne’s hands intrigues me). Thematically, she remains in Memnoch, as bold as when she created a vampire with a conscience in Louis and paired him with an unrepentant rebel rock star of a maker in the first book in the series. Not enough Louis in this for my taste (I love Louis with all his human angst and complexity) but Lestat is very much present if not the star of this tale. No the very nature of creation, of heaven/hell, of God and humanity hogs the spotlight –and how bold is she to take on such grand and controversial themes? Bolder still to cast God as the villain (or as too removed from human feeling to be relatable) and Memnoch/Lucifer/the Devil, the beleaguered hero (the one trying to do good, the one working in the best interest of humankind), maybe, depends on your reading of it. Bottom line, Memnoch is a mind trip. And Rice doesn’t allow the reader to look away from it, nor from the disturbingly erotic image of Lestat sucking on Dora’s womb blood (not my favourite image, uh, but my new favourite word for that by the way). I will add only that I don’t know what prompted Anne to write this; if it was just the next inevitable stop on Lestat’s wild adventure – he’d done everything else right? Or if it was driven by her own questioning about the nature of God (and especially God in relation to human suffering something many of us have grappled with). I don’t know; I do know that tonally, it feels a bit like a cry of frustration – “we are in the hands of mad things” – and of despair – “why are we never never to know”. These are characters’ words, of course, but the whole book, entertaining and thought provoking and epic as it is, also feels deeply personal in that sense. Or perhaps I’m reading into things.top

Pineapple Rhymes by Veronica Evanson Bernard – This poetry collection is a bit of a time capsule…a fair amount of the references (such as the celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday) are way before my time…think 40 years before my time as they reference the conditions and realities during the author’s coming of age in 1930s and 40s Antigua…but for an Antiguan of any age, or anyone with an interest in Antiguan culture, Pineapple Rhymes is a good blend of folk history and folk poetry in the folk language which is more than just a variation or bastardization of English as implied in the glossary.  If you’re a regular to the blog or are at all familiar with my literary tastes, you already know that Women of Antigua was my introduction to the writing of the late Veronica Evanson Bernard. It remains my favourite poem in the collection, and a quintessential Antiguan and Barbudan poem in my view. Other pieces bookmarked were A Mudder’s Lament, Nutten Nar Bite, Shappin fuh a Wedding Frack, Laas at Sea, Congo Man, Wite Cloaz, Teachah Teachah, Twenty Fourth O’ May, and De Obeah Oooman. She writes the Antiguan as it sounds, the work is strongest when she uses that to get a good rhythm going as she chronicles the struggles and joys of the folk…without overly romanticizing it. It’s a book that calls to mind the now elusive Antiguan character.top

Living History by Hillary Clinton – I can’t imagine how at once scary and liberating it must be to write an autobiography; digging around the dark and uncomfortable corners of your psyche, revisiting your past triumphs and failures, exposing your soft underbelly. By comparison with others I’ve read, Hilary’s feels very controlled and as such didn’t draw me in as completely though she’s led a very dynamic and interesting life. The most interesting aspects for me were her early life; once Bill entered the picture, I felt it was too much about him (and having already read his biography and being a Hilary fan, I guess I wanted more of her and less of the president and presidential policy but when you’re a supporting player to the president, I suppose it’s going to shake out like that). The latter part of her journey (pre-senate) was interesting, and a bit more revealing, as well…but still restrained. Liked it enough to add it to this list though.top

Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World by Jon F. Sensbach isn’t my usual cup of tea but it was interesting and provided some insights to the experience of African enslavement (particularly with respect to the grey areas) that I hadn’t considered. And the roots of the Moravian church…wow, some interesting insights there.top

Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama – Beautifully written, insightful, engaging…and humanizing. He may be President but he was once upon a time just a confused boy seeking his place in the world. This book is evidence of that.top

Just got through reading New Writing: Poetry & Prose by Shoestring Press. It’s actually not that new anymore as it was released in 2001, and I’m not sure there are even copies in circulation any more. I borrowed a copy from one of the authors, Wadadli Pen chief judge Brenda Lee Browne.  And I’m not just saying this because of her association with Wadadli Pen but she does a great job of capturing the rhythm of the island in her Diary from the Wet Side of the Moon and I was starting to get invested in the characters when the snippet ended so that’s good. As we do with older pieces she probably curls her lips when she looks back at this, if you’re a writer journeying, your work is going to keep on growing but if this was 2001, I’m even more eager to see what she’s come up with circa 2012. The other stories are all set in Europe, England especially and, I suspect, in East Midlands primarily. It was an alright read overall.top

The Shack by William P. Young – So, a friend insisted I read this…and I have. But honestly I’m not sure what to make of it. It starts out quite mysteriously and with deft pacing that mystery draws you in…then slows considerably after the big reveal (during the pages of exposition that follow)…but that big reveal (three in one, in fact) is significant and it does end satisfyingly with an open-ended (unstated) challenge to believe or not believe. It’s quite beautiful in parts, quite eloquent and insightful in parts, thought provoking (with respect to the nature of being, of fear, of surrender, of forgiveness, of our relationship with the divine). I can’t say this book had the powerful impact on me it did others (like my friend) but I appreciated reading it, in the end; and feel pretty certain the questioning it has provoked will linger. Post note: Actually it’s been a while since I read this and it hasn’t lingered as much as I thought it might but all other sentiments remain.top

Womanspeak is a literary and visual art journal edited by Bahamian Lynn Sweeting and featuring women writers from across the Caribbean. I’m in it, so this isn’t really a review, but I did have some thoughts about why I liked it. Yes, I do.top

Evening is the Whole Day – Preeta Samarasan
This book was written by my Breadloaf ’08 roommate Preeta Samarasan. I’m glad I discovered it and her, and discovered, too, that though from different parts of the world, there was a lot that connected us, in part due to the common cultural elements born ironically enough of our shared British colonial experience…or the residue thereof. As a Caribbean reader certain things will feel startlingly familiar when you read this; and the parts unknown, well that’s part of the discovery, isn’t it? I’ll admit it took me a while to get through it, it’s not an easy or light read; sometimes I was caught up, sometimes distracted, and sometimes I simply needed to look away. It’s very vivid and not always pleasant. Uncomfortable details aside, it is a stirring if at times claustrophobic tale (in the sense that I didn’t enjoy a minute spent with any of these people though I appreciated the author’s realistic and complex rendering of them). Speaking of style, I was immediately caught by the atmospheric punch (the thereness of the place) and by how the author captures the speech patterns of the Malaysian people in a way that makes it both relatable to the non-Malaysian reader and authentic (or at least authentic-sounding since I’m not qualified o speak to its actual authenticity)…it’s certainly one of the challenges I grapple with as a Caribbean writer, and I think this Malaysian writer does a good job of it here.  The book is informative regarding the shifting mood in Malaysia for the span of the tale but really the country is primarily the context for a family drama marked by secrets, disaffection, hypocrisy, deception, and the politics of being.top

For In the Black: New African Canadian Literature, I decided, instead of sharing favourite stories or poems, to share favourite moments. Read More.top

I suspect for the Caribbean reader there will be much that resonates in Volume 26 of the Caribbean Writer. Though it deals with the natural environment, it is not about paradisiacal vistas so much as it is about the stories (in verse and prose) running through the veins of the natural environment. I count among my favourites Tregenza A. Roach’s poem The Grove in Bethesda which speaks of the bridges formed by the environment across which people choose not to cross (“…no love passes between”); and Meagan Simmons’ Drunk Bay Cliffs, a place of natural wonder and painful history (“we stand on the cliffs/and try to drink this place/in without feeling the violence in it:/this wide ocean/gaping like an open mouth”). The Last Crustacean by Shakirah Bourne uses perspective to effectively convey the disturbance caused by unchecked ‘development’. And while June Aming’s  Two by Sea delivers bitter justice to those who take advantage of nature, Diana McCaulay’s Sand in Motion has the immediacy of a journalistic feature of nature being laid bare on the altar of development, and in Barbara Jenkins’ The Talisman (one of her two gems in this collection, the other being the adventure Healing Ruptures) nature is a vividly rendered backdrop for a complex and haunting tale of human interaction. Plus, there’s an honest to goodness ghost story, Aaron Adesh Singh’s The Duenne, while childhood takes an even darker, albeit less supernatural turn in Stanley Niamatali’s Girl-Child in which awakening sexuality, domestic violence, and violent nature converge. The protagonist in Thomas Reiter’s poem A Boy Harvesting wonders “Does everything on this island tell a story?” Yes, it does. The Caribbean Writer, the annual print journal of contemporary Caribbean literature, continues to gather the best of them.top

I have mixed feelings about Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The Lisbeth Salandar character was interesting, intriguing, and well drawn (though that made most of the other characters seem less so by comparison), the writer threads the tension tightly holding your curiousity and at times making you tense up the way a good mystery should. But it’s also fairly slow at both ends of that mystery, especially the back end (i.e. the section after the mystery of the missing girl is solved which feels both anti-climatic and emotionally unsatisfying though it did provide an interesting education on the world of international finance). Still, I’d lost interest in the outcome and still feel troubled that the many dead bodies were so quickly forgotten …but then moral ambiguity even by heroes and heroines is part of this book’s appeal so perhaps that’s intentional. I’d read another one in the series but I’m not hungry for it. I do want to see the film though.top

(excerpted from my review in the Daily Observer), Sugar Barons “is a lengthy read and the territory is generally familiar but the perspectives culled from personal journals, private communications and the like offer up fresh anecdotal tales and colourful personal narratives…” with contemporary resonance and/or ripples re the social and economic impact of sugar and its companion trade in African humans. An interesting read for history buffs and “…a reminder that the impact of the trade in indefinable ways is still being felt to this day.” Warning, the book does humanize the planters/slave owners, but even so slavery as practiced in our hemisphere was unprecedented in its level of brutality, so brace yourselves.top

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, and Oh Gad!). 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 and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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Publishing 101 with Eugenia O’Neal

I met Eugenia (Nina) O’Neal of the BVI a while ago at the Caribbean Fiction Writers Summer Institute at the University of Miami. How long ago? Well, put it this way: that was the summer I started working on The Boy from Willow Bend which has been on the market 10 years already now (wow!) and which took its sweet time about finding a publisher. So, yeah, a while ago and a time I remember fondly. Eugenia has been very busy since then; writing and publishing and writing and publishing.  There’s her non-fiction book From the Field to the Legislature: A History of Women in the Virgin Islands, published by Greenwood Press in 2001; the contemporary romance Just an Affair, published with Genesis Press in 2003; historical romance Dido’s Prize, published by Parker Publishing in 2008; and several self-published titles including the street drama EugeniaOneal_Final_800 (1) The Water of Sunlight, 2012; the historical novel, Jessamine, 2012; crime drama Collision, 2013; and warning 2 Storm Warning, a collection of short crime fiction, 2013 – some of these kindle only. Very, very prolific. How does she do it. Well obviously that’s the first thing I asked.

Eugenia O’Neal: If I told you, I’d have to kill you!  Ha!  Actually, I can work fairly fast if I have a large block of time when I have nothing to do but write.  If you’ve got four weeks of writing time (no 9 – 5, no child-care, etc.) and you’re able to do at least 1,000 words a day that should see you halfway to the first draft of a novel or even further if you increase your daily word count.

Me: As a writer what draws you to a story…clearly you don’t stick to a single genre…what attracts you?

EO: Hard to say.  I read a newspaper article or see something on television and an idea begins to percolate but it may be years before all the different threads I’m thinking about come together for a story.  And then again there was Jessamine which came to me almost fully-formed during my visit to an old church in St. Lucia more than a decade ago.  People have to be open to ideas and ready to put them down.  I always have a notebook with me to write down ideas about a scene, a character or a setting.

Me: You were head of the Women’s Desk, a Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Welfare and held other positions in the civil service according to your online bio. Have you given it up to write full time? If so, how do you make it work given that so many writers have to have other streams of income?

EO: I’m writing full time but I’m far from earning a living from my books.  I’ve got other income coming in and I also take on freelance work so that helps tremendously.  Earlier you asked about the different genres I write in and I believe that’s been part of my problem – a reader who liked Jessamine but doesn’t like crime fiction isn’t likely to pick up Storm Warning and The Water of Sunlight, the story of a crack-addicted prostitute, isn’t likely to gain fans among the historical fiction set.  In the immediate future I’m going to restrict my genre hopping until I’ve built up an audience which I hope will then follow me on my genre explorations.

Me: You’ve gone both the self-publishing and traditional publishing route. Which do you prefer and why? What should you be mindful of along either path?

EO: Well, I love self-publishing because I love the control of it – I get to choose the prices and choose the covers, for example.  Recently I put The Water on sale for a few weeks.  A traditional author can’t do that – the publisher will do it for them, if at all.  But I can monitor my sales since all the various platforms have pretty good reporting mechanisms and I can see what works and what doesn’t.  For example, I might put an ad in a particular publication to run for a week and I can check to see whether my sales increased that week or the following which I can then attribute to that particular ad or promotion.  Oh, and let’s not forget that publishing on your own gets you much higher royalties.  Amazon, for instance, offers royalties of 70% and most other platforms like Kobo or Barnes and Noble offer similar rates.  Traditional publishers, on the other hand, give their authors rates of between 12 and 15%.  If you’re Stephen King or Nora Roberts you can probably negotiate higher rates but most of use are not King or Roberts.

Also, there are some unscrupulous people out there in the publishing industry – as agents, publishers or whatever – but I can now bypass all of that.

It is a lot of work, though, in terms of learning the formatting for the different platforms, and then marketing the book but, unless you’re a big name author, you still have to do most of the marketing yourself if you go the traditional route.  I’m really very glad to have gotten off the agent and publisher treadmill though, to some extent, that’s been replaced with the book blogger and reviewer treadmill.

If anyone is considering self-publishing, I’d encourage them to learn as much about it as possible.  Google is your friend!  Thanks to Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, etc. writers can reach readers directly without having to bypass the gatekeepers of traditional publishing – the agents and editors.  At the same time, you don’t want to get hit with one and two star reviews because you threw up something that was poorly plotted or poorly edited or just wasn’t ready (for)publication so make sure you get all your ducks in a row before deciding to publish.  Unfortunately, the proliferation of self-publishing has meant a rise in scammers on this side of the fence, too.   Writers have got to make sure to do their due diligence.

Me: Can you break down the components of seeking to get your book published and/or publishing yourself for our readers, including cost, editing, art, and other factors?

EO: Well, the first step whether you’re going traditional or self-published is to polish and polish your manuscript and then polish it some more.  Post excerpts on a site like Critique Circle where you can get insights from complete strangers about what works and what doesn’t.  (You don’t have to listen to every single piece of advice but if 10,000 Chinamen point out the same plot-hole you’d be well-advised to listen.)

Once your manuscript is the best it can be then, if you’re going the traditional publishing route, you’re going to want to identify an agent who can represent your work to publishers.  Again, Googling will throw up lists of agencies …with profiles of the agents and the kinds of works they’re looking for.  Be sure to read their query submission guidelines and follow them exactly.  If you want, you can skip this step and go to publishers directly but most of the biggies, like Harper Collins and Random House, only accept agented submissions.  Smaller publishers and all of the epublishers I know of will accept un-agented submissions from writers and some authors go this route, make a name for themselves, and then begin targeting the larger publishers.

If you’re going the self-publishing route then after you’ve completed your final edits you’re going to want to get a cover for it. You can publish without one but why would you want to?  An attractive cover increases your discoverability even on the web.  You can do an internet search for cover designers and get your cover custom made but this can be quite expensive – $100.00 and up – and if you have a few titles, the cost will quickly add up.  There are also quite a few designers who offer pre-made covers on their websites and you can browse these to see if anyone fits.  Pre-made covers cost from $15 to $65 or thereabouts which makes them an affordable option. The designer will put in your name and the title and send it to you in a size ready for use by publishing platforms.  After this you’re going to want to sign into Kindle Direct Publishing where you can upload your manuscript and cover, set the price, enter the description, etc.  From there it will go straight to Amazon.  Amazon is the biggest seller but don’t forget Kobo, Barnes and Noble and other booksellers.

If you don’t want to go to the trouble of uploading to each individual bookseller platform you can go to a distributor like Draft2Digital or Smashwords and they’ll distribute to all the channels or booksellers you choose.

Me: There is a perception among some that self published books are not the same quality as traditionally published books (and in fact there are certain literary prizes that are only now beginning to open up to self published books). Clearly that’s not the case with you. Are you the exception? Or do self published books get a bad rap? Have those barriers come down?

EO: Self-published books definitely get a bad rap.  Most of the self-published writers I know work hard on their craft and make sure they put out quality books that have been well-edited and proofed and are comparable to those from traditional publishing.  Self-published authors enjoy the independence of self-publishing and the fact that they can put out books that don’t fit the mold of traditional publishers.  Take Jessamine for example Jessamine - Barnes and Noble – it got lots of nice comments from the editors my agent sent it to back when I had an agent but they almost all said it would be difficult to market – it had romantic elements but it wasn’t a romance, it had a ghost but it wasn’t horror.  One of the main women is white, the other is black.  Would it go in the African-American bookstore sections or where?  Half of the action takes place in the 1800s and half in the present day. It’s not a straight historical but it can’t really be called contemporary, either. Traditional publishers like being able to sum up a book quickly and clearly.  They like to know where it will fit on a bookstore’s bookshelves.  They want to know which audiences to market it to. Is it historical fiction?  Paranormal?  African-American?  Now, with epublishing, those concerns are a little less relevant.

Me: Speaking of barriers coming down, epublishing seems to be outpacing print publishing though perhaps in the Caribbean many still prefer paperback? What informs your choice to issue only e versions of some of your books? What’s your prognosis for print publishing?

EO: I don’t have any stats to back it up but I think many Caribbean readers, perhaps the greater majority, still prefer print books – there’s the perception that a real book is a print book.  I think this will change but not for a while.  I plan to have more print editions done because those are the ones I can hand-sell at readings or wherever.

Me: Finish this sentence…if you want to be a writer you have to…?

EO: Hmm, you have to do a lot of things but one of the most important is that you have to read.  Reading often and widely improves your writing.  You also have to be very committed to it – it’s doubtful that you’ll see instant success with your book but the more you write, the more books you’ll have which will hopeful attract greater and greater audiences.

***

Having the self publishing process broken down like this makes it seem more accessible doesn’t it? In any case, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this interview, for all those people who ask me and Eugenia both, how do you do it? Her answers re self-publishing have certainly given me food for thought re my own Dancing Nude in the Moonlight which I’d one, like to re-issue, and two, love to do a Spanish language translation of. Just need the money to make it happen (it always comes back to the money, doesn’t it?); but now I have a better idea, once I do somehow, someday, someway pocket the money of how. My own experience to date has been strictly with the traditional publishers and though I still lean that way, she makes some good points. Anyway, it’s up to you, reader, figure out your own path and walk it.

Bonus: Eugenia reading at the CFWSI  & Me reading at the CFWSI

Yes, we’ve come a long way…baby! And we both blog about it; visit Eugenia’s BlogSpot and mine if inclined to track the progress. Also find Eugenia on twitter.

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, and Oh Gad!). 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 and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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