Project Sample – the Sally series (#onthehustle)

If you’ve been here before you know that I am an author of several books of fiction (plus numerous short stories and poems) and that that (creative writing) is my passion; and you hopefully also know by now that I freelance as a writer, editor, writing coach, and course/workshop facilitator – a title that broadly tries to capture the range of interesting opportunities I’ve had to apply my training, skills, and experience (in mass communication and creative writing) to client projects. It’s always challenging and the best ones are never boring.

The writing of the Sally series certainly wasn’t and I’ve now added it to my Publications and Projects page, which serves as my online portfolio (re my writing, editing, and related services).

Sally.jpg

The Sally series of 2015 was a content creation project focused on the impact of climate change in a small island community – which I approached as a creative writing challenge exploring the seriousness of the issue and empowering the characters and hopefully the readers with community solutions. I always love working on environmental projects because it is so important, and it’s a challenge of finding a way to communicate that importance to folks who, like me and Sally, have bills to pay. It was meant to be serialized across various media platforms (and, as I was formatting it for posting here it occurred to me that it had potential as a video series as well). The realization of the potential of any project hangs on so many variables, of which the content creator is only one part – though it begins with you trying to get your message right.  You can judge for yourself if I did as I’ve gathered the Sally series in full here for the first time.

Give it a read.

This post was inspired in part by a potential client who asked to see samples of my work. Whether I get that gig or not, it seemed a good opportunity to remind other potential clients (companies, non-profits, individuals – big, small – local, multinational, global) that, if you need someone with my skills, you can check out some of what I’ve done and some of what my clients have had to say about some of it.

Then, of course, contact me to discuss your project.

Zombie Island (a story)

My favourite zombie films/TV shows include – in no particular order – Train to Busan , Night of the Living Dead, The Walking Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, World War Z, Game of Thrones, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller; and zombie films that I find laughable but watched anyway because zombies include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Land of the Dead, Dark Summer, I am Legend, and the Resident Evil series. I haven’t seen every zombie movie (I’ve even missed some of the classics) but I’ve seen a lot. And one day I decided to write one. Zombie Island was published in Interviewing the Caribbean in 2016. The as-submitted version (i.e. not accounting for edits before publication) is copied below. I’m also going to include the sections of the Q & A with IC editor Opal Palmer Adisa relevant to this particular story. Feel free to share your thoughts.

ZOMBIE ISLAND

by Joanne C. Hillhouse

When the zombie apocalypse came it wasn’t to some American town like every zombie movie ever…with maybe the exception of that whole 28 series, which totally circumvents zombie lore every which way anyway, including popularizing them as sprinters instead of shamblers. I’ve seen every zombie movie worth seeing from Night of the Living Dead to Dawn of the Dead to Zombie Land to Shaun of the Dead, yes I count Shaun of the Dead, what, to World War Z; even zombie movies that are little more than glorified video games, like Resident Evil and its interminable parade of sequels.

So maybe that’s why I was one of the first to pick up on what was happening. Still, it took even me a while to catch on, because when you live on an island downwind of everything American, you don’t think you’ll have a leading role in the apocalypse. At best, assuming you’re cast at all, you’ll be the sassy walk-on with the generic –Hollywood-Caribbean-accent-because-everybody-Caribbean-sounds-Jamaican-in-the-American-imagination-yeah-mon. But life is not a Hollywood movie.

Location wasn’t the only thing Hollywood got wrong.

There was no virus, no zombie bite, no single minded brainless horde.

It began with a boy shoving a knife into another boy’s back broad daylight at the west going bus stop, and my mother, watching it on the news that night, tut-tut-tutting about gangs and drugs and how nobody respected their school uniform anymore, as though that mattered when the trending story on our sleepy 108 square mile island was boy stabs boy for no clear reason. Well, it didn’t begin there but that’s when I took notice. Because, see, I knew the boy, Emerson, who had wielded the knife and the Emerson I knew was startled by his own shadow.

When people spoke about it at school the next day, that’s what got them, too.

“Wait, ah wha fly up inna Emerson head?” wondered Derek. Who, frankly, was more likely to be wielding a knife than keep-to-himself-head-always-buried-in-a-comic-book Emerson. Derek was loud and bully-bully, cussing girls like me in the hallway if we didn’t respond to his pssts and lewd-n-lame come-ons, shoving other boys and taking their things, unless, like Emerson, the thing they had was a book, even a comic book, in which case he wasn’t interested. Because, you see, Derek might’ve slipped through the system all the way to fourth form, but that didn’t mean he could read. He also wasn’t smart enough to deduce that with the sudden popularity of comics thanks to Marvel’s plans for world domination one movie screen at a time, he could trade said comics for money. Boys like Emerson fell below his radar unless he was really, really bored, in which case everybody was fair game. I just did my best to stay out of his way.

“Must be something in the air,” Naevia joked. I stayed out of her way too. Naevia was Derek’s girlfriend-for-now. Choice in boyfriends aside, I just didn’t find her that interesting. Her whole life was one fête after another as if that Menace ‘fête we go fête tonight’ was her theme song, and relating the details of the last one and her plans for the next one; uh, so vapid, like a budget Kardashian-Jenner girl, island style. She and I just didn’t move in the same circles. Well, she had a circle. I had Emerson. Not because either of us were more interesting than anybody around us, but a good book could fill a lot of silence and we were both into books, and in Emerson’s case, comic books especially.
So, anyway, usually I tuned Naevia out. But when she said, “Must be something in the air”, it got me thinking.

Things had been unseasonally violent in Antigua for months. When we’d returned to school in September, everyone was still buzzing with news of the Carnival shooting: the woman who’d been paralyzed minding her own business waiting for the bus after the parade; hit by a stray bullet, like a freaking 90s era urban western directed by John Singleton or the Hughes brothers. Oops, my film nerd just peeped out. That’s what I wanted to be before all of this. A professional book and film nerd, like Tarantino. Or even Chris Hardwick.

Isn’t much to be these days though, except alive…until you aren’t.

Naevia, Derek, all the other students I had my head too buried in a book to bother to get to know, the teachers who spent every open day telling my mother how I wasn’t working up to my potential, they’re all likely dead or turned. Dead would be better.

I remember after Carnival and the start of the school year, we’d gone straight into election season – and the distracting parade of bullhorns while we tried to suss out the value of X in Algebra class.

“Vote dem out! Vote out dem raas, vote dem out!”

The squawking seemed particularly loud, particularly crass and not just to me; I don’t think my math teacher, who boys like Derek called thunderbutt because she had a big ass and they were stupid boys, realized how much she was choopsing as she stretched to pull in the wooden window shutters, her skirt straining, every boy, and Marjoi, staring until she returned to stalking between the desks and looking over shoulders, forcing us all to return to considering the meaning of X while we baked in the now closed up room, the din from beyond barely dimmed.

It was a season of high emotions. And, okay, it wasn’t unusual for neighbor to turn on neighbor at such times. Ten had been plenty old enough for some things to register with me the previous election season, five years ago: like the cold war between this one and that, the drop wud, the talk as you like, the tek that in your nenen. But, still, seemed like it had all been good fun; then. A spectacle, yes, with the red and blue streamers overhead, the Carnival-esque motorcades, the giveaways, like Mardi Gras or treats after Youth Rally. Only, better. T-shirts, and money, and lap tops trumped hard-as-rock tarts and too-sweet drinks any day. I remember standing at the cash register of a supermarket with my mom while two grown men, men who seemed older-even than my mother’s older-by-nineteen-years brother, who’d raised her after their mother died, mused about the Santa Claus like generousity of a certain politician.

“If he come to your house and you don’t have no fridge, just wait, one bound to show up, he’s a man of his word.”

And I remember wondering then if that’s how the world worked, if that was the price of a man’s word, and a politician’s worth, a brand new Frigidaire. And if so why we were stuck with a fridge that leaked and groaned like Uncle Joe’s common law wife, Aunt-Mable-to-me, had in the weeks before she’d died.  I was four when the cancer took her and don’t remember much more than her slow dying, my mother nursing her out of loyalty to her brother who greyed rapidly in that time and became useless and lost without her. Like human turned zombie, hanging around but not really itself anymore. He’d shuffled into his own afterlife just a year ago, and maybe, I could only figure, back when I wasn’t figuring right, that that was why my mom seemed to be always in a mood, ever after. Because when the Carnival season switched over to the election season, and the usual parade struck up, she couldn’t be bothered to shield her contempt for the whole thing.

When I came home with a red bag with a flaming heart on it, just like everybody else had gotten, she’d snatched it from me so hard, she nearly took off my arm. She dumped out the books, dumped the bag  in the garbage, called it that too, told me she didn’t want no more of that “garbage!” in her yard, then ranted about politicians stealing the sun – “the sun don’t belong to nobody! It don’t belong to nobody!” – and trying to run off with people’s hearts. “And roping pickanearga into dem nonsense alongside the feeble minded people who wouldn’t even know an issue if it hit them in the face, long as dem get dem ‘jabs, jabs, jabs’.”

She accused both sides of having no vision but was especially mad at people like our neighbours who, though they didn’t have two pennies to knock together, nor running water most days, took the “penny-hapenny” insert-politician-here gave them and dutifully gassed their cars – “dem ole runkacachook” – for the next and the next and the next political motorcade.

“Just mek dem come an’ harass me after election bout what and what dis and dat one nar do, bout how dem cyaarn fin’ work, cyaarn’ catch dem hand, an’ how sal’fish tun pricey like shrimp. See if me na save up one ‘tensil ah stale piss jus’ fu t’row pon dem… chupid ah fart!…Steada dem tek the gas an’ come siddown dem raas so dem’ll at least have gas …an’ not just in dem tummuck.”

By the time the party with the flaming heart for a logo won, none of mom’s neighbours were talking to us. And they didn’t hush quietly either: calling across the street to each other, and having long conversations at the fence post to underscore their displeasure at her rejection of the cyclical dance. Nobody liked being called stupid.

But people who’d never really been friends becoming enemies wasn’t the worst of it last election season. It was the way the hyperbole had been turned up. “Blood will run in the streets!” if the other side got in for another term, one politician blared. When we get in we go “jail dem! Jail dem! Jail dem!” another chanted. There were photoshopped billboards going up every day, and every other day they were defaced or torn apart like the Thing had gotten to them. Moderate people were reluctant to even whisper politics because ole talk was quick to turn violent at rum shops and political meetings, at church and on facebook, and right there in my school yard. This was not the slow burn of victimization of elections past, this was TNT waiting to be lit.

Little fires popped up everywhere.

The worst I’d seen was when Lisa, Crucian, and Jefette beat Zia unconscious with a two by four right there on the school’s hardcourt where we played netball, basketball, and hand tennis. It was afterschool so some of the teachers were already gone or in the staff room, and I was on the upper level gallery, which made a square all around the court, trying to finish up a comic Emerson had brought to school that day because he wasn’t finished and didn’t want to lend it out, but I had read some of it over his shoulder during break and now just had to know how it turned out. I was a fast reader. He had extra lessons with Mr. Walling who taught this advanced level math class for the super-smart kids, so I had some time. Zia, our school’s star starter in every sport that involved a ball and a starting line-up, was shooting hoops by herself, practicing her aim, pausing every now and again to sip from her water bottle, the one with the sunshine logo, when out of nowhere a big rock landed at the side of her head. Strangest thing was she didn’t go down, no, she danced around, hopping like she was at a Burning Flames pre-Carnival fête and Oungku had given instructions to “hop hop hop on your bad foot”. They emerged into my eye-view, made a loose circle around the dancing girl, one of them, Jefette had the half a stick in her hand, and she swung it like Chris Gayle going for a Six, like he always did. That’s when Zia fell, and they fell on her, beating her with their fists, their foot, the half a stick, until the girl lay still. It had happened in seconds, and by the time security came running they were gone, and I was on the upper level trying not to be seen, heart pounding, mouth hanging open trying to make sense of this little movie short that had just played out before me. I would get plenty more times to examine it. Because apparently one of them, one I hadn’t seen, and I’m not just saying that, had recorded and uploaded it to Troll Antigua, where trolls made sport of it.

“She piss she self”
“Looka blow!”

And most telling of all “Gyal should pick her colours better”.

Before long, it had made the line-up at WorldStarHipHop, that internet hub of high culture’s listing of best school fights, global edition. “You might not care now, but you will when you’re applying to university or trying to get a job,” our IT teacher, Ms. Belle, chastised. She sighed, frustrated, when all she got was bored eyes, and one bold yawn.

Well, at least, such things, and whatever damage they could do to our future reputations wouldn’t survive. I wonder if Ms. Belle survived.

Anyway, I couldn’t believe, didn’t want to accept, that ‘the epic Antigua beatdown’ as it was tagged online had all been about political paraphernalia, a blue water bottle with a sunshine logo, for crissakes, used by a girl not even old enough to vote in an election.

I never told anybody that I’d been there. Buried it and maybe that’s why I didn’t see it right away for what it was.

The next school fight ended up online too; but that had nothing to do with politics. Was just two girls fighting over a boy. And if you see the boy, shoulders drooping like an old wire hanger, he wasn’t nothing to fight over. But Marley braids went flying and chairs were tossed about; and when a female teacher tried to part them, she catch she tail too!

That’s what amused everybody who commented more than anything. Not the viciousness of the fight, and it was vicious, like they wanted to kill each other, but the way not even the intervention of a teacher was enough to bring them back to their senses.

Adults like my mother weren’t amused by this, confused more than anything. It was as outside of her lived experience and ability to comprehend as me watching teens backchat to their parents or slam the door to “my room!” in their face on insert-high-school-film- or-Disney-pre-teen-recycle here. No that’s not an edit flub, they really are all the same and I don’t have time to remember all their names. Yeah, we film and book nerds can be snobs.

Anyway, again, I didn’t really take notice. I was busy with life, you know, books to read, films to stream on online pirate sites because the local theatres suck dirty balls and thought all we wanted to see was the latest Avengers film, which, okay, granted we want to see that too but would it have hurt them to drop in a Fruitvale Station now and again.
Point is between all that and, when I could fit it in, homework and studying, I missed the signs.

But looking back, I see it clear, like the inching up of a slow tide.

The way the latest stabbing, shooting, drive by, walk by, drive up, pull up and walk way quickly became white noise, as though we had all just accepted this violent strain in our society as the new normal.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about it all, here, in this temporary soulless, stimulus-less sanctuary.

I recall how soon as I started scratching my head about Emerson, I started scenting a funny smell in the air. Funny isn’t the word for it though; funny makes it sound sweet like Christmas-kitchen-smells. But, no, it was stale at best, sour when it was bearable, and at its worst, like God was passing a particularly virulent strain of gas. As I started to pay attention to the news, I came to associate that smell with anger, fury, rage spilling over.

We’d been learning about volcanoes in Geography, about Langs Soufriere across the water in Montserrat, how it belched thick clouds that soured the air and rained ash like a plague. How you couldn’t get the stink of it out of your skin.

That’s what this smelled like.

Once I took note of it, I couldn’t unsmell it.

I started noticing other things, too.

Like how I was pulled as tight as a rope during a school yard tug-o-war. Normally mild-mannered, timid even, I found myself fighting the urge to throw things at the slightest upset. I remember seeing on TV how people who lived the kind of life where you drank wine with dinner or even on special occasions, would use a corkscrew to remove the wooden stopper packed tight into the mouth of the wine bottle and the way it would fly loose with a pop. I felt more and more like that little bottle stopper.

My mother couldn’t say two words – “why you didn’t….ent I tell you to…you did your homework, you wash the dishes, you don’t see you straining yuh eyes with all that reading in hardly any light” – without me feeling like I wanted to pop. Sometimes, she didn’t even have to say anything; just breathe where I could hear her. I would hear her door open or her steps grow closer, and feel myself tense up, just so. I’d have to talk myself into relaxing because, okay, yes, my mother was annoying, I think it’s in the mother-manual, but she was mostly okay. Wasn’t quick to anger, left herself without so that I could have; this build-up of rage unsettled me.

Because I loved my mother.

Because you see, in the world I grew up in, before you knew God, you knew your mother; he might be all seeing but so was she, and she was closer.

All mighty as she was, though, my mother had never had to lay a hand on me, never been inclined to, even in a society which swears by “spare the rod, spoil the child”. Her approval was everything I needed, and her disapproval when it came, came rarely, because I wasn’t trouble like some of the other kids around, and because she was the type to explain to me what I did wrong, and explain, and explain, and explain rather than fire a lick like some of the other mothers. I did my best to earn her approval, and with it relief from her nagging explaining. Her disapproval felt like physical pain; not a stubbed toe either but a toothache, the kind of toothache so determined it wakes you up at night and has you writhing on the floor like a wounded animal because it feels like everything, and it feels like it will never end.

It has always been me and my mother. My father left for the States when I was little. At first, he sent barrels of things, maybe once a year, but then when I was about five and he flew in and came by unannounced to find mom with her taxi driver friend, the one who dropped her off when she had to work late, just sitting out on the dark verandah like they did, everything stopped.

All these years later, I don’t know if mom was dey wid the taxi man, as my father accused her that night, if she was I certainly hadn’t had a clue, but I’d come to resent men like my father who wanted to have their cake and eat it too. Selfish men, and no that’s not totally redundant, I don’t think; I mean, Uncle Joe took care of my mother rather than finding some auntie or goddie to take over her care when they were both still grieving their mother and when he was still himself little more than a boy. Points subtracted for not marrying his long time woman, Aunt Mable.

I mean, what do I know I’m only fifteen right, but even then it seemed to me that that was a big difference between men and women; men want to have their cake and eat it too, while too many women take what crumbs they can get.

The crumb my mother was left with to bring up on her own was me, and, as you can tell by now, if you’re still reading, I was no prize.

I am aloof, judgmental, and so socially awkward, I really have nothing to back up this above-it-all-ness.

And yet, here I am among the few survivors camped out in what used to be the Epicure’s Palace, a pretentious supermarket styled off of American opulence at its most superfluous. A place so big you can play hide and seek in it. That used to be one of its boasts in its ubiquitous TV ads. The few children who’ve made it here prove the truth of it. Running the length of the aisles, hiding between the clothing turnstyles. What kind of supermarket sells clothes, anyway? The budget jeans and skirts are among the more recognizable oddities here though. Seriously, I’ve had time to wander and wander and wander these aisles, and I still can’t figure out the use for two thirds and a third of the things on the shelves, nor why we need 20 brands of bran cereal. Raised on oats and cornmeal pap, I never developed a taste for Kellogg’s anyway. But more books and candy, please.

Of course, these days, we are so old school, we eat whatever is rationed for that day and like it.

Ms. Alderman does the rationing.

She used to be a market vendor and has a good sense of sizes and portions, a bulldog expression, and no patience with any nonsense.

The Prime Minister’s in here too. I recognize him from before, on billboards with his family. He’s not in charge anymore though. In fact, he mostly keeps to himself having commandeered a tent from the home goods section in which he huddles like a hermit. Ms. Josephine who lost her own family out there took his daughter when we all realized he wasn’t present enough to take care of the girl. “I’ve always wanted a girl-child but God didn’t bless me with one,” she said, sounding as if the zombie apocalypse was a personal gift to her from God. The Prime Minister didn’t stop the possibly not-quite-right woman from claiming his daughter and there was no sign of his sweet-faced wife from all the billboards.

To be fair to Ms. Josephine, the girl clung to her like she was home. “Must can smell the mommy on me,” she joked from time to time, drawing the girl in tighter.

My own mother fell protecting me.

By the time it happened, barely anything was normal anymore. ABS was doing emergency coverage from some unidentified location and every time I turned on the radio – there was no TV anymore – I was surprised they were still there, and not just because our batteries were running low.

It was kind of like life after a hurricane.

The way everything felt still but life wore itself out trying to catch a normal rhythm.

People were looting by then and some deluded folks still made a show of going to school and work. Most had given up though when it became clear that the Rage, once an island phenomenon, had spread to the more developed countries, and nobody had any answers. Closing borders was an exercise in madness and futility. It didn’t work. The Rage took over the world and what was at first random acts of violence became the new normal.

Massacres. Bombings. Shootings. Mindless. Rage.

Even so, I near jumped out of my skin when I heard the pounding on our door. I didn’t answer it. It came again with the fury of a million stampeding wildebeests behind it. I’ve never seen stampeding wildebeests but I have seen Lion King and the knock felt as powerful as dangerous as those wildebeests must have seemed to little Simba. I crept to the kitchen window but couldn’t really see anyone. It was dark out. Were the looters inevitably turning their attention from the commercial centres of St. John’s and Woods to where people lived? I decided to ignore the banging but my mother didn’t have an ignore button. She yanked the door open in a wtf motion. The thing that flew at her hardly seemed human. On one level, I recognized it as our across-the-street neighbor, who was always drunk but who had also always seemed harmless, and, like the other men, removed from any strife between my mother and his woman, or any of the other neighbor women. On the other hand, it was a frightening thing; lips wet with the spittle frothing from its mouth, as it “fucking fucking” fucked my mother. And when she made to close the door, this thing my neighbor had become threw its body against it and I unfroze from my stasis to help my mother who was screaming as she grunted, as we both put our back and shoulders into it. For a skinny thing, it was strong though, and got in anyway.

“Run,” my mother shouted, pushing me, and I hesitated.
“Run,” she shouted, throwing herself into its path, and I took off, through our back door, over the back fence, past the date palms and the lemon trees out back, past the mango tree that was just coming to come, and the soursop tree that never would in this perennially thirsty soil. I ran and ran, my mother’s dying screams like a siren in my ears, fear and guilt heavy in my heart.

When finally I stopped, submerged in an old water barrel in somebody’s backyard, breathing through a straw I’d found on the ground if I so much as heard a sound, shivering every time the breeze hit the parts of my skin that were visible above the water, the barrel was half full, I told myself it was what mothers did. But it was small comfort. I had been a piss poor daughter and didn’t deserve her sacrifice.  My tears when they came surprised me, and I told myself “hush hush, they’ll hear you”, but I wouldn’t listen, sniffles turning to sobs turning to outright bawling, me dipping below the water to try to muffle the sound. Hoping to drown.

But I lived.

After that, there was no pretending anything would ever be normal again. In the weeks that followed, I became like a stray dog or a beggar, ever wandering, alert to danger, scrounging for food, trapped by my circumstances. And every day there were more of us than the normal people. It was like the world was turning itself inside out.

It’s a strange place to meet a boy, and Sammy was hardly a boy anymore, but that’s where I met him. I was scoping out the vast parking lot of the Epicure’s Palace where there were abandoned cars and a few stragglers. I stared at the glass doors below the Enter sign and wondered if it was worth the risk to try to grab some food. I scoped for days, bedding down at night in one of those abandoned cars. Finally the gnawing in my belly answered the question for me; either I would die running or die sitting, dying sitting didn’t sit well with me. But just as I prepared to run, one last scan from the back of the car, body tensed for the sprint, something grabbed my leg. I kicked on instinct, and the same instinct had me muffling my terror, loud noises only attracted trouble. But when I caught sight of my attacker not only was there no Rage in his eyes, there was a bright smile on his face. I almost kicked again; only crazy people had anything to smile about these days. But then he winked, and it was the most charming thing. I took a proper look then. He seemed not only alive but vibrant, dark skin glistening, muscled arm seeming to ripple as he released me. He wore  a basketball jersey and he hadn’t dropped his smile. “We locked the front door. You go that way, they goin’ be on you in a second,” he said. “Come. The service entrance. Round back.”

I followed him. What a time for me to become a hormonal teenager but I was drawn to him, I not goin’ lie. Besides, it wasn’t totally stupid. He had a way in. He said. So what it didn’t make sense to trust any one any more. I followed him, dodging behind cars, sidling down the side of the warehouse like building, until we reached a door blocked by a big dumpster, the smell coming from it nearly knocking me out. Three rapid knocks, one slower one and we were in.

The cold hit me immediately. I started shivering and didn’t stop for I don’t know how many days, they say I nearly died. Might have if the Epicure’s Palace didn’t include a full pharmacy. When I came out of the delirium, his face was the first thing I saw.

When he saw the clarity in my eyes, he smiled; “there you are.”

And there began my new life in the Epicure’s Palace.

I don’t know how long we’ll last here.

The adults tell themselves fairytales about it all clearing up on its own, someday, moving on like any other storm. The kids have unpacked most of the toys and still think it’s Christmas; they fight over the almost-life-size basketball hoop, race the aisles in shopping carts with one kid inside and one pushing. Those, in between, like me, try not to think too much of what we’ve lost. What we continue to lose.

We’ve had to throw out most of the perishable food. Even with 60 of us camped out here, we couldn’t eat all of it before it turned. Judging by the expiration date on a lot of the canned goods, we’ve got a year of life left. If they don’t find us first, or the (solar-powered) generators give out, or whatever bad thing is in the air out there comes at us through the vents, infecting us one by one, until we turn on each other, Rage, and die.

Sometimes I dream about us finding a boat or a plane and flying, but, there’s nowhere left to go, no way to get to any exit ports without risking death, and no pilots or sailors among us even if we could.

Before time, my favourite show used to be The Walking Dead, and the thing I always wondered while watching it was what was the point of surviving if you couldn’t live. I’m learning that the human body wants to live. Dylan Thomas once wrote “do no go gentle into that good night”. A more accurate line might’ve been “Good God, give it up already, it’s over!” But try telling the human body that.

It gives itself excuses to live, even after it’s lost everything.

Sammy used to work here at the Epicure’s Palace. It was his first job out of school. He’s the age my uncle was when he started looking after mom.

Sammy had cut and packed meats; knew how to use a knife. He was teaching me how. How to cut. Where to cut. With our zombies a head shot isn’t necessary, any vital organ would do, and dead is dead. I guess some wouldn’t exactly call them zombies, but I’m not a purist, remember? I liked the silliness that was Shaun of the Dead.

I haven’t gone on any runs yet, but I’m getting better. He tells me I’m not ready to go back out there yet. He said we must eventually though because we might have everything in here but in time we’ll need to find somewhere else.

It’s weird. Now that I’m here I’m anxious to be out there. This near-normal we’re building in here isn’t real and my body knows it. The anxiety manifests like a physical pain. Not a stubbed toe or a persistent toothache. Like inflammation in my bones and on the surface of my skin, like sharp bolts of lightning slicing through me. The first time it happened. I was dozing in one of the lounge chairs, when I sat up sharply startling myself and Sammy both; it felt like someone had hit me hard in my funny bone while someone else dragged (something) like a razor over the surface of the skin of my other arm, then it was in my legs, like fire ants. Nobody knew what to do – rubbing alcohol only soothed it for a time.

“Hives,” someone said. “Is the stress causing it.”

I wanted to shout, “okay, you’ve diagnosed me now FIX IT”.

No one could. Sammy tried to distract me by reading to me until I could concentrate enough to read to myself.

When it stopped it stopped abruptly and I fell into relieved sleep.

But it came back.

And then went away again.

I expect it now and the anxiety of that brings on even more frequent episodes.

I started writing to purge my frustration, my anger, my rage, my fear that all these feelings means I’m becoming one of them. That someday it will overwhelm me and I’ll attack. I feel like they think it too, the others, like they’re watching me. So…we can add paranoia to the other afflictions I’ve picked up in this new world.

“You’re not crazy,” Sammy soothed, teased, “people really are trying to kill you.”

He’s the best thing about my new life, though I occasionally feel guilty about having anything at all to be happy about when my mother’s dead, because of me.

But I’m happy to have him, and we all have so little now, even locked inside the supermarket with everything, I can’t begrudge myself this.

We’ve found a quiet space all to ourselves where we’ll be celebrating my 16th birthday. I’ll be giving my virginity to him on that day. I’ve already told him. He wants to make it special for me. He’s such a romantic.
Maybe I’m a bit of a romantic too.

I’ve been eyeing this satin dress in the clothing aisles; it’s unlike anything I’ve ever worn, dazzly with rhinestones, girly and grown up with a bow on the bodice and no sleeves. It’s the colour of spilled wine, or blood before it’s congealed.

He’s saving one of the birthday cakes from the bakery. That and a bottle of sparkling French rosé. He says it tastes like champagne.

THE END

And now, the relevant parts of the IC interview:

IC: “Zombie Island,” despite its nihilistic title and the trajectory of the story that descends into total chaos, ends on a romantic and positive note — not everyone is jaded and even in the worse of situations people can care for and protect one another.  That’s a very hopeful and affirming ending. Do you believe that good overcomes evil?

JCH: I’m not Pollyanna and I have my dark and despairing periods when it comes to all the evil and suffering and badmindedness in the world, but I suppose I do lean toward hope or some days, if I’m being real, the hope of hope…how else are you supposed to get out of bed in the morning?

IC: What would you say is the antidote for this violence in the Caribbean?  It seems to me that some of us have always been able to keep the violence at bay, to continue to live in harmony, to reach deep down and come up with a smile as Sammy and the protagonist of the story manage. Do elaborate.

JCH: I don’t know that there’s a single antidote. We have the pain of our history, the baggage we still carry, poverty, violence, disconnection from ourselves. I suppose my actions speak to some of the things that can be done, what worked for me – giving our young people an opportunity to tap in to their creativity, a forum to express themselves, to connect with what they’re really feeling, and to know that that’s okay, to listen and to hear each other, all of that. I don’t have faith that the politicians will do it and so we do what we can in our homes and in our communities, however big or small or personal our community is. As for Sammy’s smile, never underestimate the power of laughter.

IC: Your story, “Zombie Island,” seems to straddle genres, but more importantly tries to find a “logical” reason to explain the surge of violence in the Caribbean. Speak about the impetus for this story.

JCH: I love zombie movies and TV shows. I wanted to write one. I like to try my hand at things I’ve never written before. That’s how I ended up trying my hand at noir, and the teen/young adult genre that resulted in my book, Musical Youth, a Burt Award finalist, or the faerie tale, With Grace, that’s shortly due out as a children’s picture book. So, it was that impulse to try something I hadn’t done, to experiment. It was also the reality of violence – everything that happened in that story including a raging man banging down my door happened in life, though none of it, as is always the case with fiction, happened as it happens in life. My irritation with the politics is there as well so it must have been political season when I wrote it. But mostly it was me wanting to see if I could tell a zombie tale at all, and then more specifically a zombie tale in a Caribbean space, not the snarling horror of it but the creeping awareness of it…and then of course the snarling horror.

***

Content on this page is the copyright of Joanne C. Hillhouse. Do not plagiarize nor re-post without credit. You’re welcome to check out the books mentioned in this post and my other books, my other published work of fiction, and, of course, Interviewing the Caribbean.

Three Shout-outs

I wanted to shout out three women who are in various ways part of my writing network and who I’m delighted to report have recently had bountiful news. Where to start.

57297718_3216584615033959_3560534236345663488_n(This image of Danielle Boodoo-Fortune at Bocas collecting her prize from Jamaican-American author Geoffrey Philp – whom you might remember from my Miami Book Fair post – is, along with the Doe Songs and Bocas workshop picture below, borrowed from her announcement on her facebook page)

Danielle Boodoo Fortune came out of Bocas as the winner of the lucrative Poetry Book prize (for her book Doe Songs)59846567_3217010364991384_7470939742733860864_n.jpg, one of only three (along with Fiction Book prize winner Dionne Brand for her book Theory) in the running for the Main prize (which went to Non-Fiction Book prize winner Kevin Adonis Browne for his book High Mas). The entire top three is from Trinidad and Tobago where the Bocas Literary Festival is held.

I was in Barbados for a BIM Panel Celebrating Women Writers when I met Danielle

BIM 2008

Panelists at the BIM Symposium (2008) Celebrating Caribbean Women Writers. I’m centre and Danielle is to my left.

and we have stayed in touch since (notably she’s served as a judge of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize – my non-profit promoting lit -and sometimes visual, but really all – arts in Antigua and Barbuda, and illustrated one of my picture books Lost! A Caribbean Sea AdventureNFF2018_Kids zone_Danielle Boodoo Fortune_Lost_2), among many interactions over the years). I love Danielle’s art and celebrate this win with her. I also have to thank her for using Lost! in an illustration workshop she did at Bocas this year 59397428_3216799255012495_1627817812347060224_n.jpg– not her first time repping the book (image of Lost! above-above is from Trinidad’s New Fire Festival at which Danielle presented Lost! in 2018).

Her book Doe Songs has been receiving all kinds of critical accolades (e.g. “What the reader can trust with Boodoo-Fortuné is her capacity to meet the page with unflinching honesty and brave perceptiveness.” – UWI lecturer Dr. Jennifer Rahim writing about Doe Songs in Trinidad and Tobago’s News Day); so a Bocas run was perhaps inevitable but nothing is guaranteed, so kudos to her for going the distance. What’s cool is that though her star continues to rise, Danielle remains one of the most down to earth, rootsy people I’ve met on this writing journey – which is why though we’ve barely met in person I count her as part of my literary sister circle.

And so I shift to Sharma Taylor, originally from Jamaica, but resident in Barbados – where I’ve met her a couple of times (once when she was a participant in a workshop I facilitated at the BIM lit fest; once when we were co-participant in a Commonwealth Writers workshop), staying in touch now and again since. Sharma (!) also claimed one of the prizes administered at Bocas, the Johnson and Amoy Achong Prize which is a developmental prize (successor to the Hollick Arvon Prize) which comes with cash, mentorship, a short writing course, and networking opportunities.commonwealth writers
(image from the Commonwealth Writers workshop – Sharma and Alexia, seated, first and second from left – 2018)

I also met Bahamian Alexia Tolas in Barbados (that same workshop I co-participated in with Sharma) and we got along really well. I am dee-light-ed that she was picked as the Caribbean winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize (for her story Granma’s Porch) and am rooting for her to claim the overall prize. I also appreciate her shouting me out in an article in the Nassau Guardian. The love goes both ways in the literary sisterhood.

“As I Am”: Kimani Beckford’s Affirmations

Sharing for the critique of the artist’s work but especially for the timely discussion re artistic spaces in Jamaica which is of relevance to us here in Antigua and Barbuda, and I would believe in the wider Caribbean.

Perspectives

The young Jamaican painter Kimani Beckford is currently has a solo-exhibition tour project, titled Affirmation. The exhibition is shown at two venues: its inaugural display was held at the Jamaica Conference Centre in Kingston, in space that is used for art exhibitions by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC), and has now closed. The second leg of it will be shown at National Gallery West in Montego Bay, where it is scheduled to open on May 19. This review is based on the Kingston edition of the exhibition but I also  raise a few issues that are relevant to the upcoming Montego Bay showing.

The Affirmation exhibition project is supported by the inaugural Dean Collection TDC20 St(art) Ups Artist Grants, of which Kimani Beckford was one of twenty awardees and the only Jamaican. The US-based Dean Collection was  founded by Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean and Alicia Keys and…

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Some Antiguan and Barbudan Books of Fiction that gave me Pleasure

“I have not and cannot promise that I will read all listed books. So, this is not a list of recommended reading” is something I say in the preamble to all the Antigua and Barbuda book lists I’ve built over the years on the Wadadli Pen blog. I let go of any guilt or obligation I felt about that a long time ago – time is short, I mostly read for pleasure these days. That said, I was getting set to share the fiction list (there’s a master list plus a breakdown by genre) on my facebook page as I do, I thought I’d spice up the share with some commentary and, yes, it got overlong for facebook; so here it is. The commentary focuses on books on from the Antigua and Barbuda fiction list that have brought me pleasure. I’m not sure it’s a favourites list (such things are never fixed anyway) but it is a pleasures list (because reading should be if not fun necessarily then spirit stirring somewhere along the spectrum of emotion, thought, and engagement).

batThe Legend of Bat’s Cave and Other Antiguan Stories by Barbara Arrindell – it is still the kind of book that would be a good way for young readers (upper primary, say) to touch Antiguan-Barbudan history (fictionalized history). My favourite story is the most personal one about, as I remember it, an idyllic childhood being shattered by loss and a dream being tripped by societal misogyny. I remember loving the way it sets the scene – that scene being early 20th century Antigua – in a way that gives me a window to a subtly different time. My second favourite story in this collection is the one about the kidnapping of Governor Warner’s wife by Kalinago during the early days of colonialism and the plausible rendering of the mythology of the underground caves connecting the islands and such, and remember being struck by the lonely fate of Warner’s wife. The way these stories simplify some non-marquee stories from history  is infinitely more interesting than the study of dates and such that was largely my experience of learning history. Incidentally, I’ve used my least favourite story in the collection as a physical and imaginative reference point in my first Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project workshop. I remember one of the participants in that workshop announcing a year later in another youth writing workshop (this one focused on media) that I had taken them to a cemetery (yikes) – actually I’d taken them to Big Church, the St. John’s Cathedral, which features in the first story (sort of – the story is about the earthquake that demolished it; so it is about a young Anglican priest facing the challenge of rebuilding this iconic church…which has an attached graveyard this is also something of a social space in Antigua).

Lovers Rock2London Rocks by Brenda Lee Browne – I’m actually re-reading London Rocks by Brenda Lee Browne as I haven’t read it since editing it well before it was published. I’ve always rooted for the character of Dante and liked, still liking, the atmospheric quality of the toasting scenes, how the writer captures and renders those spaces, and the use of language generally. This book in my view could easily work as a film inquiring into spaces and telling a story from a particular point of view not usually scene in big Hollywood films. The character’s restlessness, his grappling with the racism of his (English) environment, the dance of love, and the searching for self between two worlds.

consideringConsidering Venus by D. Gisele Isaac – I still think there’s no book quite like it – and I still think that it has been overlooked by the canon (for no other reason than the writer comes from a small place and the book was issued by a small press). It is ahead of its time when it comes to exploring fluidity with respect to sexuality – not to mention middle-aged love, orgasms and all (and in that showcasing Black women being unapologetically sexual) – and yet it’s also about home and family and that gender-charged word, agency. It’s a very bold book.

unburnableUnburnable by Marie Elena John – This book is epic in a number of ways digging in to Amerindian, African Caribbean, and Catholic history in telling the story of a particular woman’s story – and in so doing, the story of the women who came before her, but also in a way the making of an island rife with conflicts and contradictions. Its vivid and layered sense of place from the forests to the Carnival make for a very lush reading experience.

Hillhouse Read's Kincaid's Lucy, (06.2012)
(me reading Lucy in New York, Photo my Mali A. Olatunji)

lucyLucy by Jamaica Kincaid – I could’ve just as easily picked other Kincaid works I found myself caught up with at this point or other, and especially Annie John because it was my first and is so evocative and fearless, but I chose Lucy because I found the reading of it enjoyable in a way that I did not See Now Then or Mr. Potter or My Brother – all of which I had interesting interactions with (so I like them as well though for different, more complex reasons). Lucy and Annie are different people and yet Lucy feels like Annie’s story (and for that matter the girl in Kincaid’s short story Girl) if Annie had escaped the island and the ways it defined and pinned her down, and found a new freedom to explore and discover herself for herself…in New York. It just so happened that I read it in New York, in the parks, on the train, in a Harlem apartment, and surely that impacted my experience of it as surely as the familiarity of Annie’s world did my experience of that book. Also, the way her words flow like river water…refreshing.

ladiesLadies of the Night by Althea Prince – I could also add edited fictional works like In the Black and So the Nailhead Bend So the Story End (which is not purely fictional) which I also enjoyed. I could have chosen as well Loving this Man which moves between the lives of these different women from the same family here and in Canada. But Ladies of the Night is pure joy and an almost perfect read – split as it is in to individual stories of complex and interesting girls and women, very specifically Antiguan women for the most part. From burgeoning sexuality to infidelity this book belongs in any discourse involving womanist fiction because it is that surely as Sula, The Colour Purple, Their Eyes were watching God, et al. And it is as well written in my view.

So there you have it; some books from the Antigua and Barbuda fiction list that brought me pleasure.

It also gave me pleasure to write my latest CREATIVE SPACE which is about an event featuring Man Booker winning author Marlon James. Check it out.

58381271_2167713906873338_626977247105908736_n.jpg

My books of fiction are on the Antigua and Barbuda fiction list as well; hope you’ll check them out too.

She’s Royal – Extra

I’m done with my She’s Royal series but you know how movies have DVD and/or Blu-Ray extras – well…

Meet Queen Anacaona 

ana

Hispaniola, you may remember from your history books, is the island where Christopher Columbus made first contact with the people of the hemisphere which would come to be known as the Americas (a geographic space encompassing north and south America and, little as it’s mentioned, the Caribbean) – you might also have heard it referred to as the ‘new world’ (though of course it was hardly new to the people already living there). Among those people were the Taino, and Hispaniola (then only part of the Taino terrain as there were Taino elsewhere in the Caribbean) is now divided between the French Caribbean country of Haiti and the Latin American Caribbean country of the Dominican Republic. We won’t get in to the complicated and contentious history between these two countries sharing this singular land mass, but we will venture in to the complicated and contentious relationship between Queen Anacaona’s people and Columbus’ people (meaning broadly the Spanish).

Columbus landed on Hispaniola in 1492. Anacaona (born in 1474) is on record  as meeting him in 1496 along with her brother, the Jaragua chief, Bohechio. “In Bartolomé de las Casas’ Historia de las Indias, he reports the meeting as cordial and friendly” (Source). That, of course, didn’t last. “The Spaniards as we know, pillaged the island through massacres and slavery.” (Source)

In the contentious years that followed, Anacaona’s brother died and she became chief of the Jaragua. The Spaniards also captured her husband – Caonabo, chief of the Maguana – who subsequently died making her also chief of the people of Maguana territory. His territory was in present day DR and hers in present day Haiti, making her influence span the mass of the island of Hispaniola. She and her people outnumbered the Spaniards but acknowledging their superior weaponry, she took a diplomatic route to stabilizing relations between the interlopers and her people.

“As she saw it, rebelling against the invaders would be like signing a death sentence.” (Source)

Blending houses, figuratively speaking, was the route taken – with intermarriage between Taino royalty and elite members of the Spanish military. The peace, however, lasted only as long as the leadership – and with the arrival in 1502 of a new governor, it collapsed with the massacre of many influential Tainos, and the capture and torture of others. Queen Anacaona herself was tried (for treason ostensibly) and sentenced to be hanged.

“…she was offered the chance to save herself. She would be granted clemency if she agreed to become a concubine for one of the high-ranking officials. However, she refused the deal and was hanged.” (Source)

She was 29 at the time.

The fate of the so-called new world was written – later the indigenous people would be all but extinct (not all extinct as we would have been taught in history class years ago), and Africans (my ancestors) would be enslaved up and down and across the Americas (the USA, across Latin and South America, the Caribbean – again little as it’s told one of the most brutal forms of chattel slavery was experienced in the Caribbean) for hundreds of years financing the western empires that would go on to dominate the world (hence the rising tide of call for reparations – sparked in the Caribbean and credibly part of the conversation as the Democratic primary in the US gets going).

In Haiti, though, Queen Anacaona remains a symbol of rebellion and pride.

This extra is the last of my She’s Royal series though clearly I could go on and on the full has never been told.

Mailbox Monday Meme (MMM…M)

This is a Mailbox Monday post which begs the question ‘What good books did you receive to curl up with this week while the storms blow through?’

I’m in the Caribbean, so no storms…yet. And, as it happens, no new books either. But I would like to share some new reading if that’s okay.

This week I finished …

Evolution: Weaving in and out of Consciousness while the Truth is Somewhere in the Middle by Felene M. Cayetano – Here’s my review of the poetry collection by the Belizean-American/Garifuna writer – and here’s an excerpt of that review: “That she left in the lumps and the pulpiness made for a richer experience as we almost voyeuristically watched this young woman wrestle and come to terms with herself and her lineage.”

So that’s all of one whole book down for April so far (can you feel the momentum slipping?)

This week I read…

Beneath the Lion’s Wings by Marie Ohanesian Nardin – in which an Italian gondolier courts an American tourist in Venice (so far…I’m only 35 pages in)

New Daughters of Africa (which has some 200 writers and is edited by Margaret Busby) – it’s a thick one but riveting…I’m only about three stories in so I’m still deep in the historical section (the history of African people in America) – it’s not pretty but it’s not dull.

Inferno by Dan Brown – they’re still in the gardens outside of Florence, they’re still running, there are drones and symbols and impossible odds…I still don’t care…but I’m still reading.

I probably would’ve read more if I hadn’t started a new editing assignment this week and, Murphy’s Law, my eyes hadn’t started acting up around the same time (and yet I still watched …what’d I watch… Game of Thrones, John Oliver, Train to Busan (without English subtitles and I still dug it because, zombies), and every episode of that new Netflix zombie series because I can never turn off a zombie show… when I should’ve been sleeping)

This week I also read…

This amazing review (it’s so fun finding reviews!) of my book Musical Youth…in French. I had to use google translate to decode it (so fun!)… and I shared it here on the blog; it ends: ‘To my knowledge, there is no French translation available, much less Creole, but I hope that “Musical Youth” will become a classic of literature for generations to come. And why not an audiovisual adaptation to immortalize this illustration of our time?’

Woah! I actually really appreciate this…it’s been a challenging week…but this was good; this was good

Another writer’s recollection of a visit to Claude McKay country which I posted on my other blog with her permission – don’t know who Claude McKay is? You should. He was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance in addition to being at the vanguard of Caribbean literature…also I love the idea of a poetry garden (what am I talking about? read the post)

Some other interesting stuff (poems, short fiction, lectures, interviews) I added to the Wadadli Pen Reading Room and Gallery 33rd edition

Oh and I grabbed…

A Callaloo journal I’ve had since 2012 from my shelf…so the pile in progress has not gotten any shorter…and I’m still scouting for new books…it’s a sickness I tell you.