Success is…

The headline for this Kamy Wicoff article (What Makes a Book a Success?) caught my eye because I’m always looking for marketing ideas – promoting these books IMG_4996and my writing services has become like a second job (researching, adapting ideas to my reality, communication, execution, and networking, networking, networking). The fact that I have a blog or facebook presence at all can be attributed to promotional ideas picked up along the way. So, yeah, I’ve been at this a while, and it can be tedious and time consuming but if it helps me reach more readers and stay engaged with the readers I already have (and am thankful to have) then, hey, win.

Well, hooked and on a mission, I started reading Kamy’s article, and discovered it wasn’t about new ways to generate more sales at all. But about something much more essential.

It begins: “A year after my first book came out, a then-friend said to me, over dinner at an Italian restaurant on a cold winter night: ‘Your book was a failure.'”

I was impressed with her for putting that out there, for talking about that moment when society gives you the thumbs down, and you have to shake it off. Sometimes it comes from genuinely well meaning friends and family – “…but they’re not buying your books,” “so, is this one going to make money?”, “I thought once you books came out you’d be…”; and sometimes critics and bloggers, just doing their job, really, and calling it how they see it so you can’t be mad at them for calling your book a “failure”. But, of course, you have feelings about it; first, because while it may not be analogous to, it certainly feels like somebody criticizing a child you labored to bring into the world…second, because you want the book to do well both financially and in terms of reader responsiveness. You want to be a success. And though, the irony of it is, some might think you’ve given up the hustle because you’re “doing books now”, you know sipping mimosas and collecting royalty cheques might be Carrie Bradshaw’s dream but it’s not your reality. You are the very definition of a working writer.

Joanne Reading

As Kamy Wicoff goes on to reflect, the choice is between accepting society’s label, failure/success, or putting your journey into context and re-defining success for yourself. She wrote: “My book was not a failure. For one, I was enormously proud of it, not just of the book but of myself for finishing it. For another, while I had not turned into an overnight punditry sensation, I had crossed a meaningful threshold professionally… Perhaps most important, I had reached an audience, if not in the numbers I had hoped. Women had written to me from all over the country to tell me what my book meant to them, and readers cared about it enough to engage in lively debates about it on blogs and on my Amazon book page.”

That, too, I can identify with. I am beyond moved by the messages public and private I’ve received from readers of my books, by people embracing the books, caring about the characters (I’ll never forget the classroom of teenagers that demanded to know why I had to kill one of their favourite characters). jo17That’s the part of this experience of writing and publishing that continues to be beyond real for me, because I love to write (I lose sight of that in the grind sometimes but it’s true, I love to write) and to think that this thing I love to do has taken physical form, books, the pages of which are being turned by readers here at home (who tell me often how much of themselves and our culture they see between the pages of one of my books) and readers from far away places, readers I’ll never meet (I once got an email from a reader in Italy. Italy!), who somehow connect with these stories anyway, give thanks for that.

For every rejection letter, I’m also lucky to have books, stories, poems, that have had as Kamy put it, “a chance at a life in the marketplace”.

But before the marketplace, there’s a writer in a room grappling with a story that has to come out and then at some point, as I did during an all nighter last night, grappling with editing that story, a process just as heart wrenching as the first go around; sewing things together, pulling them apart, cutting stray threads, crying and fussing, and bleeding, and somehow finding joy in all that, in the agency that gives you, in the pleasure and pain of putting it together, in the anticipation of holding that book in your hand, of imagining it in the hands of readers…hopefully thousands of readers. Because sales matter…otherwise why are we out here promoting and marketing and networking…buuuut Kamy’s article is a reminder that that’s not all that matters, a reminder of something much more essential: you poured everything into writing this book, don’t let anything diminish that “Because in the ways that matter most–and in the only ways (you) can truly control–it’s a success already.”

A good (and timely) reminder.

The View from Here

Q. How much is the literature from this part of the world influenced by its past history of connections with West Africa and with Britain?

Well, it’s like I just said, the influence is there but part of the interesting thing about the Creole experience is that it is this new thing born of all of these influences of which Britain and Africa is only a part, a significant part, but still just a part of the whole. As far as literature goes, we were certainly in the school system in which I came of age, exposed to what’s called the Classics, Shakespeare to Dickens and beyond; and, frankly, didn’t read enough of our own world, though it did exist. And notwithstanding the efforts of slavery and colonialism to totally erase our African identity, it remains in some of the language influences, some of the food, and expressions, music and philosophies handed down orally, whether in local sayings or Anansi stories. In my own book Oh Gad! – Africa is there in the coal pot making tradition that’s a central motif, it’s there in the local sayings, and in the spoken dialect, but there’s no denying the influence of English, and in fact, America as well in ways I’d be at pains to pick apart. But Caribbean is neither of these things explicitly, it is its own thing, and the art and literature reflect that.

Read my full BookerTalk interview here.

Read other news, guest blogs, and interviews.

Some days…

The cursor pulses like. your heart. beating. in your head. Sit. Be disciplined. Write. Rest. less. Dis. com. Bob. you. Late. D. Defeating. Dis. APP. Ointment. Society’s. Scale. Dings. Downward. Use a different. Measure. But. Doors Slam. Mouths open. Wonder. Is it worth it. This fling. This thing. What if..llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll

The Situation Right Now

UPDATE! This was actually the situation last week Sunday night…since then, the storm blew through, knocked out the power and as a result my ability to get much work done (since my computer is my office) …but thank God for life and minimal damage (Bermuda’s not been so fortunate so keep them in your prayers). I read a lot more this week than I have in  while…primarily advancing the slow going Mansfield Park, finishing the Artemis journal (the one with my poem Civ-I-li-zation in it), and picking Night Rising Vampire Babylon by Chris Marie Green from my shelf of books unread because everything else I’m reading right now feels so damn heavy and measured and I wanted something fast paced and fun…I’m actually close to halfway through. Reading’s slowed now that I have my power back though.

Weather: They say there’s a tropical storm coming. How serious is it? Well, the airport’s closed and flights have been cancelled. No weather yet though. Praying this is one of those times the meteorologists got it wrong.

Cue the Music: Hmmm…not a lot of music today… but it’s MC Lyte’s after-birthday and I was recently missing diversity in female hip hop, so how about this:

UPDATE! You know I had to add this one (that’s more like it):

Women’s Retreat: I had a retreat of one this weekend (needed it after completing a grueling edit review)…me and a Walking Dead marathon leading up to the season premiere. I am prepping for an actual retreat next month at which I am a presenter. It’s an empowerment seminar and my presentation will be on, what else, writing.

School: Nothing to report here except I’m still trying to make my Jhohadli Writing project happen…and I’ll have news shortly on a workshop I’m helping to put together…and I continue to learn from the school of life.

Currently reading: I feel like I’ve been reading the same five books for ever…I used to be able to read faster than this. I’m going to have to pick up the pace if I expect to get through and do justice to the Burt Award submissions (which I really want to…do justice, that is). I’m starting to feel bad for the other unread books on my shelf. Anyway, I’m still reading…

Paradise by Toni Morrison

Artemis Volume XXl

Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On  by Stormie Omartian

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

The Other Tongues

Finished this week: Nothing recreational…but, yay, finally got through that grueling book edit review though.

Prayers this week: Well, it’s starting to rain here so I guess no storm is out of the question…but keep us safe while it passes and don’t let the damage be more than we can bear is still on the table. Please, God, and thanks.

This post was inspired by this post over at My Head is Full of Books and modelled on it except for things not at all applicable to my life like wash-the-dog.

List Surprise

from as list

If you’re on facebook, you likely got tapped at some point to name your 10 favourite books. I have, too. What was unexpected was seeing my books on a couple (literally 1, 2, but I’ll take it) of those lists – Oh Gad! (see above) and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight specifically. Go figure. Gyal from Ottos, Antigua, gobsmacked.

Speaking in Tongues

Tongues of the Ocean is an online Caribbean literary platform originating in the Bahamas under the stewardship of managing editor Nicolette Bethel. The current issue is guest edited by me and features literature and art from and about Antigua and Barbuda. I hope you’ll check it out. Here are some excerpts…it will be updated at a pace of about two new additions per week until the entire issue is live. Be sure to let the creators know what you think about their work. Thanks.

summer one

As I posted on social media about this piece, art inspires art. I remember writing my poem ‘One’ (published in the She Sex anthology out of Trinidad) in response to a painting by Glenroy Aaron. I told him how his painting had inspired me when I sent him my poem ‘Summer 1’ (which had been published in The Missing Slate) simply because I was curious to see what it would look like visually and *hint hint* hoped it would inspire him. Aaron readily embraced the spirit of what I was suggesting, and captured the vibe of the poem without re-creating it in a literal sense. ‘Summer 1’ (the poem) will be republished in this special Antigua and Barbuda edition of the Tongues of the Ocean. Summer One by Glenroy Aaron is the cover image for the issue.

“I think that artists are essential catalysts of change; we have the power to raise consciousness, stimulate debate and promote change.” – Heather Doram during the roundtable discussion of Antiguan and Barbudan artists - this roundtable also includes Mark Brown, Emile Hill, and Glenroy Aaron, with art work by Aaron, Hill, Doram, and X-Saphair King.

“Near twenty years ago, my delight upon recognizing an intimate self in Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John was equal to my delight a few years prior when I re-discovered the Antiguan kaisonian, after years of a staple diet of Trinidadian kaisos. These two moments have plotted my trajectory to this current moment in which I am fresh from defending a doctoral thesis that intervened into the traditional obscuration of Antiguan and other ‘small-island’ narratives.” – Dr. Hazra Medica in an essay entitled Discretely Antiguan and Distinctly Caribbean

Here’s my introduction to the issue. Still to come, poetry, fiction, and art by… me, more from Aaron, King and Doram, also Marcus Christopher, Dorbrene O’Marde, Brenda Lee Browne, Gayle Gonsalves, Barbara Arrindell, Kimolisa Mings, Tameka Jarvis-George, Charles Langley, Tammi Browne-Bannister, Linisa George, and past Wadadli Pen finalists Shakeema Edwards, Devra Thomas, Rosalie Richards, Vega Armstrong, and Zion Ebony Williams – a WP selection, by the way, which spans  the singled-out submission of our youngest contributor to date to new writing by our oldest winner to date. As satisfied as I am with the issue, I am especially pleased with the present and past Wadadli Pen voices in the mix because that feels like Wadadli Pen has played a part, however small, in developing new literary voices out of Antigua and Barbuda. We are here – Arwe Yah!


October 24th 2014 is the submission deadline for the 2015 Burt Award for Young Adult Caribbean Literature. Last year around this time…hmm…I hadn’t even started work on my entry…again, not proud of that…just a statement of fact that some serious binge writing followed by a rush to get it off took place in the Hillhouse household in October 2013. Hopefully, this year’s entries are already well advanced if not off already.

Placing second for this prize has been one of the highlights of my writing life to date. In fact, it felt like a win, a moment, a breakthrough for this journeying writer, as you can tell from the picture.


As I type this, I’m waist deep in edit notes trying to get the book, Musical Youth, to press with publisher CaribbeanReads, I’m working with the Burt Award organizers, CODE, to try to bring a writing workshop here to Antigua *fingerscrossed*, and I’ve just been announced as one of the judges for the 2015 Burt Awards alongside Debbie Jacob, Verna Wilkins, and Richard Scrimger – read all about my co-panelists here.

Each of these developments has me feeling both daunted and excited, by turns overwhelmed and expectant. Whatever the ups and downs of editing, I’m being reminded how much I love these musical teens, I’m glad that an opportunity may be coming to other talented Antiguans and Barbudans (and possibly others in the Eastern Caribbean) through this programme, and I do not take lightly the opportunity to be a part of selecting the next winners.

Beyond all of that, that this prize is bringing fresh and modern literature to Caribbean teens and young adults is a good thing. I hope more Antiguan and Barbudan and really Caribbean writers take up the opportunity, and when those books hit the market as they will thanks to the arrangement between CODE and the publishers (yes, I’ve also been involved in trying to identify groups in Antigua and Barbuda which can make sure those books get into the hands of our teens and young adults), I hope teens across the Caribbean nyam dem up like good food.