The Next Big Thing

That title’s not a boast, that’s the name of a blog relay I’ve been tagged in by self-described Caribbean Nomad, poet Althea Romeo-Mark, author of If Only the Dust Would Settle and other works. Read her interview here. Read mine, below:

I'm leading with this image of me with Brenda Lee Browne as the video clips featured in this interview are from this televised book club event at which Brenda Lee served as interviewer. Thank you, B.

I’m leading with this image of me with Brenda Lee Browne as the video clips featured in this interview are from this televised book club event at which Brenda Lee served as interviewer. Thank you, B.

TNBT:    Where did the idea come from for the book?

Joanne: Oh Gad! – the latest of three books, after The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and my first full length novel – begins and ends with family, as do the other books and much of my other writing. My exploration of the tensions within that domestic space – and space used here not in just a physical sense but having to do with that familial ‘space’ – and the unbreakable connections that binds family together even as they pull apart from each other and sometimes from themselves. I don’t know what specifically sparked this telling – it’s been so long since the journey that yielded Oh Gad! began – but if I’m analyzing it, I would say there’s a clear interest in my storytelling, spilling over from life, in those relationships …

There’s always some sense of the social context perhaps in part because I am a reporter in real life, always sort of clued into the human interest aspect of news, current events, and history… the ways these impact the lives of people, often in ways they can’t control. As for the coal pot as a motif, well inspiration there comes from my father’s side of the family who for generations made their living in this folk cottage industry.

TNBT: What genre does your book fall under?

Joanne: Fiction- sub genres would include literary fiction, women’s fiction, Caribbean fiction, romantic fiction, political fiction… a pepperpot of things really.

Really, I just hope it’s good reading.

TNBT: What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Joanne: If Laurence Fishburne could manage an Antiguan-American accent, he’d be a good Hensen J. Stephens, not Matrix-era Fishburne (love you Morpheus but you’re too sleek), CSI-era Fishburne.

Sophie Okonedo, maybe, for Nikki. She’s lighter and shorter I think than Nikki but somehow is the first actress that comes to mind, maybe it’s the shape of her eyes, which is weird as what’s unusual about Nikki’s eyes is the colour, not the shape of them. The casting of Jazz would be dependent on how Nikki’s cast given their similarities and differences so I don’t have any one specific in mind.

I like Isaiah Washington for Terry, or maybe I just want to see him acting again; and the Amazonian beauty he’s at the party with, when he runs into Nikki on New Year’s Eve, well I visualized Tyra Banks when I was writing her so, why not.

Idris Elba for Giovanni.

Morgan Freeman, he’d have to grow out his hair, but he could easily do the dad, the Professor.

Danai Gorira for Sadie. Cicely Tyson or Ruby Dee as tanty.

Marianne Jean Baptiste as Audrey, she’s not the type physically but I saw her in Secrets and Lies and she could nail the accent and she’s got the talent to pull it off.

Viola Davis and Chiwetel Ejiofor as younger versions of Mama Vi and the Professor.

Lynn Whitfield as Bernadine.

It’d be a small role for her after the Help but Octavia Spencer as Belle.

For Carlene, we’d need someone new and preferably Caribbean. And we have lots of good local talent …who could easily fit into the roles of Tones, Fanso, and others. Gotta have some local talent in there.

Aeden is a tough one…he’s mixed race with locks like maybe a younger Ben Harper or Lenny Kravitz…but more…something…I suppose we’d have to cast someone new. The search could be interesting.

TNBT:  What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Joanne: I was actually asked this question during the book club discussion…

Joanne: I described it as a modern Caribbean story of love, politics, family, personal journeying, history…and a hell of a ride.

TNBT: How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Joanne: Too long.

TNBT: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Joanne: Okay, I’m going to reference online and media postings by actual readers  here, because who better than the readers to say what piqued their interest. Such as…

Characters that compel …and maybe make you want to pull your hair out

Sakinna: “I have a love/hate relationship with Nikki. Sometimes I identify with her thought processes and other times I just want to smack her.”

Ellenaj: “I developed a love-hate relationship with the main character Niki Baltimore. I was more often than not frustrated by her actions and couldn’t decide if I wanted to hug her or scold her.”

Kara: “I loved your character Nikki. I really identified with her identity struggles and how she came to terms with her past and present.”

Themes to make you think

Althea: “Oh Gad, set in Antigua and New York, is about “outsiderness,” alienation and learning to fit into one’s skin.”

Alistair: “Accurately reflects most Caribbean island characters and life….from slave/colonial times up to date…with their baggage and all.”

Claudia: “Ms. Hillhouse is extremely brave to tackle many of the issues raised in this story which could be regarded as provocative by some. Nevertheless those issues are true and offer an excellent written portrait of elements of our society in the twenty-first century.”

It feels real

Reina: “This is the first book I’ve read, that a sad moment literally made me cry … Truly felt all her emotions, and all that the moment was designed to conjure up, and that for me is real deep.”

Tarea: “I read it and I must say this book had me emotional!”

Helena: “Each character came to life for me, I could picture each scene vividly, taste the food and hear the music. This book was an interesting rich experience.”

You might learn how to talk Antiguan

Sylvia: “Even though the dialect wasn’t something I was used to at the end of the book I felt that I could go to Antigua and carry on a conversation with the best of them.”

Shontrell: The dialect is wonderfully written and rolls off the mental tongue while reading it.”

Ellen: “The use of the local dialect enhances the books authenticity while the characters have universal appeal.”

And learn other things about Antigua as well…but you won’t feel like you’re in a classroom

HStar: “This book made me laugh, it made me cry, and watching the relationship between Nikki and Aeden blossom made me sigh…The surprise was the history lesson.”

Tarea: “I have actually learnt so much from reading this book about history than from attending 11 years of school in Antigua.”

Brenda: “Contemporary setting with some history and mythology thrown in without making you feel like you got to go to university to understand.”

But you don’t have to be from the Caribbean to enjoy it because…

Patriot: “The professional and personal challenges faced by the two main female characters are familiar to many of us as are their journeys of self-discovery.”

Sargent: “I have never been to Antigua but I enjoyed the description of the scenery and the realness of each character.”

Carole: “Whether you know likkle Antigua dialect or not, it’s a great read with some tremendous characters and a thought-provoking storyline.”

It’ll tickle and surprise you

Glen: “…had me on d floor literally.”

C.M: “Hillhouse unpeeled layer after layer of detail, intricacy and intrigue, finally exposing a most satisfying conclusion.”

Natalie: “Real cool twist at the end… unexpected!”

TNBT: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Joanne: I am represented by an agent and my publisher is Strebor, bestselling author Zane’s imprint with Simon & Schuster.

Oh Gad! book launch April 2012. (Photo by Zahra Airall/ByZIA Photography)

Oh Gad! book launch April 2012. (Photo by Zahra Airall/ByZIA Photography)

That’s it. All the videos featured in this interview are courtesy ABS TV and can be found here. Thanks to them and thanks, Althea, for tagging me.

The writers I’m tagging, in this all Antigua and Barbuda edition of Next Best Thing, are:

Tameka Jarvis George, author of I am, I am that I am and Unexpected, whose interview is now live.

Floree Willams, author of Pink Teacups and Blue Dresses and Through the Window.

Kimolisa Mings, author of Martine.

Elaine Spires, author of What’s Eating Me, Sweet Lady, Singles’ Holiday and coming soon to the small screen, the Amazing Adventures of Maizie and Em.