Oh Gad! Snapshot Reader Reviews

Oh Gad snapshot review

In 2012, my novel Oh Gad! debuted. In July 2014, the mass market paperback edition was released. Above is a snapshot of customer reviews from the book’s Amazon page. I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to weigh in and am relieved that the vast majority actually seem to like it. I will continue striving to tell my stories, and hopefully tell them well. Meanwhile, help a writer out by spreading the word won’t you? Mad love and thanks.

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Go here for more reviews from readers and critics.

(the never ending) Wish List

First things first, I’m not asking you to get me anything. This list-in-progress is just me sharing things (primarily books…I’m not giving away all my secret wishes) I’ve come across or heard about that I’m interested in. Most of these (and this is just a sample) remain wishes unfulfilled mostly because of time and money (and time …seriously I’ve got a whole shelf of books still unfinished and a deal with myself to stop acquiring new books until I’ve worked my way through those). But I’m excited by the possibility of them so I felt like sharing…and, who knows, you might find them interesting too and then they’ll end up on your wish list.

Prime Time Blues: African Americans on Network Television by Donald Bogle. If this were a documentary or retrospective on TV, I’d watch it…because I like stuff like that, histories of social movements or inertia. So this book, I think, would be right up my alley.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman – old and new gods battling each other…sounds like a season of Supernatural…I’m in.

The Wolf Gift, Wolves of Winter, and any other in this series because…I like tales of were creatures and I love Anne Rice’s fiction; if she can do for werewolves what she did for vampires (make them interesting, complex and all too human) count me in.

Sleepless in Hollywood by Lynda Obst…Because this behind the scenes Hollywood stuff is kind of a guilty pleasure of mine…not in a ‘reality’ TV show way (though much as I can’t stand reality TV, I’ve read my share of autobiographies and memoirs) but in a ‘how they got made’ way like Easy Rider, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll Generation Saved Hollywood by Peter Biskind

Still on the wish list

Items listed here before which still remain wishes unfulfilled

The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Caribbean Literature  …because every few years or so I like a good overview/innerview of the Caribbean literary scene (like Bruce King’s West Indian Literature and Selwyn Cudjoe’s Caribbean Women Writers) …and this one caught my attention.

Ain’t Gonna be the Same Fool Twice because I read and liked April Sinclair’s Coffee Will Make You Black back in the 1990s and it’s a damn shame I never read the sequel.

Cereus Blooms at Night by Shani Mootoo because a few years ago when I did a poll for my Wadadli Pen blog on Caribbean literary favourites someone described it as “…a very dark and beautiful story of deep secrets, unusual friendships, and sexual taboos…” …colour me curious.

Michael Cunningham’s The Hours …because I liked the movie, that is all.

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas … because I found the premise interesting.

Littletown Secrets by K. Jared Hosein … I found out about this one in a facebook group and the description immediately intrigued. I like the unusual. Then I read a review which described it as “unconventional, emotionally satisfying” and “endearing, (and) morally complex”, reinforcing that it was not only unusual but well written. Grabby hands. Plus I’ve been scouting at the time for good reads for my pre-teen nephew this seems like a good find…bonus that it gives me an excuse to bump it up the list. – UPDATE! got it…well, my nephew got it… it’s still on my to-be-read list but at least it’s in the family.

For my thoughts on some of the books I’ve already read search ‘blogger on books’ over at my other blog.

It’s about character…really.

What is it about zombies?

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I’m marathoning The Walking Dead as I write this. I’ve been with this show from season 1 episode 1. I am a black Caribbean female who is not a huge fan of gore or slasher fics. But I do love me a good zombie movie so when I saw the first set of previews for The Walking Dead, I was in. Almost five seasons later, I’m still here. And it’s not for the guts and gore.

I love man of action Daryl but not just because he looks like sex on wheels and wields a mean cross bow. I like how his character has evolved from a loner and a little brother with self esteem issues balanced out by mad survival skills to a core member of the group who has proven his courage, his tenacity and his heart and shown his vulnerability.

I love that Rick struggles with trying to hold on to his humanity and continues to put one foot in front of the other even when he feels like giving up because he has a deeply rooted sense of honour and responsibility; and it’s that core that makes it that much more heart wrenching when he breaks apart – as he did when his wife died. Some were impatient with him, there’s no time to grieve loss and have breakdowns in a zombie apocalypse but he is just human…as are we.

I’m loving Carol’s season 4 arc. I’m a little ashamed to admit that season 2 Carol annoyed me because yes I see the contradiction in that, considering what I just said about Rick; she had just lost her daughter and maybe me and other viewers like me could have been a bit more patient with her, even if she did depress the hell out of us. In any case, this much more capable – if slightly more scary Carol (seriously, if she tells you to look at the flowers, run) FILE011– is much more entertaining to watch, and the trajectory of her journey much more interesting in the full. She has blossomed now that she’s no longer under the heel of her abusive husband though it could be argued that she’s past a tipping point where even as you applaud her strength and badassery, you mourn the loss of her humanity (killing for the greater good) – but, hey, if Carl can come back from the edge…

Michonne, watching her learn to become a part of a society again; Hershel, the conscience of the group and yet likeable in a way Dale never was (for me); and, yes, even Carl (from clueless kid to efficient killer-slash-child of the corn to tantrumming teen to boy becoming young man) are all interesting to me.

Point is, I love the characters’ journeys – the interactions and the inner journeying – and if I do get frustrated with anything it’s character contradictions that feel less organic or more like the character just jumped the shark – season 3 Andrea, anyone? I mean say what you will about Lori but she was consistently exasperating.

I love that The Walking Dead isn’t just about zombie kill after zombie kill, and that the producers, writers, directors slow the pace enough to force us, yes, the viewers, to confront who are you when all of society is stripped away – like a modern day Lord of the Rings. No, that’s not a stretch at all; think about it – who are you when no longer confined by laws and social protocols? In some of us, the survival instinct is strong, and we related to Shane’s ability to make tough, albeit highly unethical judgment calls (for the greater good); and isn’t that a bit unsettling. Because if we survive at all costs, how different are we from the dead, mindlessly seeking flesh, and if we do survive, find a cure, whatever, what of our humanity will be left, and can things ever go back to what they were?

I remain engaged by the Walking Dead because it places that big question before us – who are you?

All that and the thrill of zombie kills.

Talking Musical Youth, Burt, Reading and Writing in Bookends

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“It’s about music, friendship, growing up, becoming bold, secrets, discoveries, teenage angst and teenage love in the little bubble of a group of musical theatre geeks, Caribbean style. You have a young guitar player and a young playa, their friends and families, and the production they’re trying to get right before the end of summer. It’s a fun book which I think Caribbean teens will be able to relate to, about a group of young people I absolutely fell in love with while writing them.” Read more about Musical Youth, Burt, and my reading and writing life in this interview in Jamaica Observer’s Bookends column with Sharon Leach: BOOKENDSJUNE29

 

 

And on the Flip Side

Flipside of what? Well, yesterday there was some heavy ruminating on this blog and then I found something I’d written but never shared (I don’t think), on a related topic, and thought why not share the other side…so I’m sharing…

One of the finalists in this year’s Wadadli Pen looked back to say thank you in a lengthy letter shortly after this year’s awards. This is unusual in itself but given where my heart and head were at the time, and at times have been since, I needed to hear it.

The writer wrote: “Maintaining the balance between helping others and helping oneself is hard and the temptation is to shift to the latter. But I believe that your success so far is partially due to your investment in others.”

This is the struggle I’ve been having for some time and some days it’s hard to see “success” in the midst of it or to measure the worth of your investments in yourself and others without the benefit of distance. So it was interesting for me to read this as I wrapped up the 10th year of Wadadli Pen (10 years, still can’t believe it)

Wadadli Pen awards 2014.

Wadadli Pen awards 2014.

and considered the future of both Wadadli Pen and my life as a writer and freelancer on the hustle, not with an eye toward abandoning either project I think but ever trying to figure out how to make them work better. So, yeah…

The writer also wrote: “You are indeed fortunate to have discovered your purpose, make a living by it and share that with others, very few people do!”

Most days it’s hard to see fortune in the struggle but when I think back to the fact that I’m not struggling at something I don’t want to be doing, but at something that gives me life (and that that struggle is punctuated by achievement), yeah, there is fortune in that. I’m a writer and every day I’m thankful for that.

I was watching this thing on OWN the other day about being thankful every day, about how just opening your eyes and being able to see things is something to be thankful for, to wake up, to breathe, to live…some of you may be familiar  with my happiness project, which is in part a gratitude project, a reminder to myself to be grateful for the things I have, the things I’ve been able to do…but it’s kind of jacked up that you have to remind yourself of those moments isn’t it, because life sometimes seems like it’s all about piling on the crap. The struggle is real. But you know what …I’ve always loved to read, always had a boundless imagination and an obstinate spirit, I love music and appreciate art in all its forms (mostly), and I live to write…in spite of all, the ups, the downs, the goal shifting, the expectations, the let downs…those core things haven’t changed…that I imagine and I live to write…not to be confused with always making a living, mind…but which gives a certain purpose and direction to the way I move through life.

So, there’s that.

The writer wrote: “I know it was very stressful this year, but I want to encourage you to hold on to the management of this competition, because it is your creation and legacy. You are doing what so few successful people do which is to invest in the next generation and invest in processes that do not necessarily reward one financially but sap one’s energy and strength.”

Yeah, there’s that.

Ruminating on Fund Raising

I will admit it, I’ve been burned on the whole fund raising thing. When I started Wadadli Pen, the model applied to fundraising was that no cheques or cash came to me as an individual…when we knew who the winners would be, the cheques would be made out to them, individually. That’s the model I use to this day, 10 years on. Admittedly, this could be an inconvenience to donors who instead of writing a single cheque are being asked to write multiple cheques to individual winners. It means also that since no money comes directly to Wadadli Pen, there’s no money to do other things – workshops, publications and productions, a stipend for judges, cover administrative expenses, nada. Also, it requires some trust on our part as, rather than collecting a contribution we are ‘collecting’ a pledge to give said cheque at a later date – once the judging process has run its course and we know who the recipient will be, weeks, sometimes months later…and thank God most of the businesses we’ve worked with have proved more than honourable. Some may not give quite what we anticipated but I can’t think of any business not honouring the pledge to give…something. On the rare occasion that a cheque had to be made out for a service to Wadadli Pen – for a plaque maybe – as much as possible we’ve had that cheque written to the company providing the service. Point being, to date, no cheques go to Wadadli Pen, which, yes, still does not exist as a legal entity, nor to any of the individuals involved with Wadadli Pen including me.

Wadadli Pen is a non-profit project.

The Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing project was not. The model there was to offer young Antiguans and Barbudans the opportunity to participate in the writing programme irrespective of their financial ability to do so. I, therefore, made a pitch to several businesses to sponsor a young person to participate in the programme on the merits of the programme’s potential benefits to the participating youngster. The cheques in this instance would come to me to cover my facilitator fee and expenses related to putting on the weeklong camp; this was clearly articulated and the response was very positive. An experience with one of the donors though still lingers with a bitter after taste. In retrospect, it had the effect of putting me in my place. It’s one reason, though not the only one, why I didn’t jump gung ho into doing a second summer of the camp, but rather after some contemplation activated the Jhohadli Writing project as an ongoing workshop series for people of all ages, that those who wanted to participate would have to buy into. I would not be seeking sponsorship for individual participants…and that hasn’t even been particularly hard and fast.

This burn – and some other experiences over the years – have also affected the language I use when approaching businesses about Wadadli Pen; patronage and partnership as opposed to sponsorship – a small thing perhaps but in my mind affecting how I see the relationship and hopefully how they do too, that this is a contribution we are both making, me and others through our volunteerism, and businesses and others with cash and kind gifts, to the development of youth and the arts in Antigua and Barbuda.

A year on from the JSYWP, though this wasn’t my first bad fundraising experience, it was the first experience of its type and I felt blindsided and confused then, and I still feel humiliated by the experience now; more humiliated because I did take the money in spite of that humiliation, reminding myself not to make business personal, and that one more person could participate because I didn’t let my pride, or, it seems, my bad manners, get in the way. A year on I still feel chastened, cautious, and bitter in the manner of a child who knows they’re blameless but has to apologize anyway because the other person has the power. But of course I’m not a child and I did have the power to walk away and didn’t, so maybe it’s shame I feel.

I know with certainty that I don’t want to do this type of fundraising anymore. There’s a ways to go between what I want and what is, but one way to move past that is to have people pay to participate in the JWP and in the case of Wadadli Pen to take the steps to make it a legal entity able to set up its own accounting and try fund raising models that don’t involve going cap in hand to businesses, and that don’t have to get personal. After all, none of this is about me – which is what I tried/try to say in my pitch to businesses re supporting either project. And my parents did teach me to say thank you and please, which I do as automatically as breathing – sometimes to an annoying degree, though, as I learned, there are other ways to annoy even when bending over backwards to be polite and professional.

I do know that I don’t want this or other bad experiences to steer me away from doing the things that give me purpose and pleasure, and seeing the young writers shine every Wadadli Pen season, seeing the youngsters come into their own and have fun on the journey during the JSYWP did give me a great sense of purpose and pleasure. And, as a writer trying to make a living, certainly in the case of the JSYWP and its successor JWP, I, of course, want to continue to find ways to monetize what I do. I do want to do more of that kind of thing…just a different way.

To wit, in addition to pressing on with the JWP irrespective of the low response, I took a leap and applied for something that could ease Wadadli Pen’s funding woes; it’s not my first time applying for grant or donor funding (in spite of their daunting and impossible applications process) but I’m hopeful. So, fingers crossed.

The Jhohadli Writing Project Set to Begin

I’m in the process of preparing for the first session of the Jhohadli Writing Project, successor to last year’s Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project. Unlike last year’s programme, which was a one week camp free to teen and tween participants thanks to generous donors recruited by me, the JWP is a week to week, one session per week, pay as you go creative writing programme for writers at various stages and levels or for people who simply need to boost their writing skills for some other purpose. My expectation is that it will continue beyond the summer as  long as there is interest. That it is not sponsored/free probably accounts for the comparatively low registration. But I plan to press on with this project and anticipate that it will grow as time goes on.

It begins the first Thursday in July, continuing weekly thereafter, with the ‘teen stream  - creative’ programme (as that is where the confirmed registrants have come from). As explained on my Jhohadli site,

“This is for anyone in the teen bracket; into being creative, interested in learning more about craft and open to receiving constructive feedback on works-in-progress. As we work together, participants will hopefully become stronger artistes, and more aware of the great art in and beyond their world.”

As the synopsis suggests, we’ll be looking to other works, Caribbean and non-Caribbean,  classic and modern literature and art for instruction and inspiration, and participants will be encouraged to read, observe, discover and write, and will engage in discussion and receive feedback and guidance.

If you or any young person you know could benefit from this kind of programme, you can contact me at any time at jhohadli@gmail.com for more information or to register.

Feedback from last year’s camp:

“It was truly a help to me and this experience inspired / encouraged me to continue writing as well as share my writing with others.”

“You helped me on my path to being a writer. Thank you so much and I’d like to return next year. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.”

“I’ve been slacking off on my writing and this got me on track.”

“I gained a lot of tips in writing to make it more realistic.”

“I also got a lot of healthy criticism to better my writing skills.”

“I learned a lot from this camp. I can honestly say that my writing has improved from this experience and because of it I’m sure I will get better. Highlight of my summer.”

“I definitely gained more confidence in my writing and extra knowledge on writing stories, books, etc.”

“I gained courage to share my work with others, I learned to look beyond/deeper than what’s on the surface and to show the readers rather than telling them, which makes the piece much more interesting. I also learned that detail is very important.”

“The activities we did were very helpful in developing writing, reading , observational skills and more.”

The Jhohadli Writing Project is a writing instruction and mentoring project spearheaded by Joanne C. Hillhouse, author of several books including The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad! Joanne is also a freelance writer, editor, writing coach, and workshop facilitator who operates out of Antigua and Barbuda but is not limited to Antigua and Barbuda in her interactions with clients or her literary ambitions for herself and others with talent, potential and a strong work ethic. Joanne is passionate about the literary arts and hopes to stir similar excitement and confidence when it comes to literary expression in programme participants.