Re new fictional publication, The Other Daughter in Adda, an online publication of the Commonwealth Writers organization in the UK. Thought I’d blog the journey to publication of this particular piece as part of my blog’s mission to share the ins and outs of #TheWritingLife
I’m always writing. The Other Daughter is one of those stories I’ve been working on and tweaking, and submitting (rejected at least twice before Commonwealth Writers expressed interest in publishing it), and tweaking again for a while (since maybe about 2015). So I can’t say specifically where the idea came from (though people will come up with their theories – I’ve had at least one of these floated to me since its publication…#itsjustfictionfolks).
What I will say is that it’s about a mother and daughter which if you’re familiar with my work, mothers and/or mother-type figures are a feature – and, contrary to my own life, fathers tend to be absent or might as well be (I’ll do better, dad). That I come from the kind of nuclear family the main character in Daughter has never known isn’t even the most I stretch out of my comfort zone with this story. A father who’s a prime minister, a mother who’s a whore? But that’s one of the things I like about fiction: the opportunity to explore and report on other lives. Different as it is though, it comes back to mothers and daughters and that’s something I continue to explore. In Daughter, we have a complex relationship between a hard of necessity, will sacrifice to a crime mother and a daughter still trying to make sense of her world and the mother she is both bound to and pulling away from.
One of the things I was interested in while writing this was point of view. There are time and reality shifts in The Other Daughter but it’s all firmly rooted in the daughter’s point of view. I started with her as a child and the things she notices – like the gargoyles (in fact, as I write this I’m 70 percent sure this started with her noticing the gargoyles and me trying to capture that detail) – and the things she doesn’t yet know, like the ways her life is about to change. She is one of the first writers I’ve written (she may be the only) so it’s insight to how writers bend reality until what’s real becomes subjective.
A chill ran through me at the sight of those two gargoyles, with their bat wings spread out behind them and their faces frozen in a snarl that I could almost hear. Up close, their gray skin seemed to ripple in anticipation of taking flight. I almost peed myself when I passed between them.
It’s also a commentary on society’s hypocrisy (especially at the intersection of gender and politics).
My mother didn’t take notice of any of it, she never did in daylight. But then one of them got bold, called across, “your girl getting big”. My mother’s hand tightened around mine, painfully, when he added, “she soon ready”. She didn’t speed up, just kept moving. Hitching my knapsack higher, I kept pace with her, as their laughter followed us.’
A note on editing: the excerpt above didn’t exist in the original draft, but there was an editorial note that prompted me to think about what set the events of the story in motion – and I found that I always knew (because sex as commodity and predatory behavior were already stamped in to the DNA of the story), I just had to write it. Editing was a bit frustrating as it often is but a good editor challenges you and you just have to decide what’s absolute (what’s worth fighting to keep, what needs to be stripped away, what needs to be varnished, what needs to be added) – painful as it can be, you have to be open to the process. So, I won’t say it’s not rough – we writers are nothing if not precious about our words. But as I met the page and its red notes, I had to laugh at the irony as I was just then coming off an editing project where I’d had to navigate the frustration of some writers resisting even the slightest change to their words. God has a sense of humour…and life sends you the reminders you need. And after the red marks and back and forth, my story was better for it; which is the goal, isn’t it?
“The hill we climbed was at the outer edge of the city and seemed a million miles from our world. We lived at the bottom of the city – close enough to the harbour to have gotten used to the assorted smells of the run-off from human activity on the island, and from the big ships that docked there. We had never had reason to go uphill – a cascade of plain buildings where the starched people did office work. We had no business there as far as I could see. The building at the very top of the hill, washed in white and trimmed in gold, was as impressive as a palace.”
Now about how it got published. I learned about Adda at an editing workshop co-sponsored by Commonwealth Writers which runs the site. I inquired about and was inboxed the submission criteria. Nothing secretive about it (and this and other markets can be found on my other blog); Commonwealth Writers also then and certainly in future circulate submission calls via their email and social media. I submitted and received an offer of publication (and yes, this is a paying market), and then over several weeks engaged in the rigours of editing. My own strategy is to take edit notes a bit at a time, like hot tea, don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to read it all at once – that’s how you get burned. In this way, you get to the end, carefully considering each recommendation. It’s about what’s best for the story, not about your ego. Something I’ll have to remind myself about next editing go-around.
That’s pretty much it. When they asked about art, I suggested, as I always do, Antiguan and Barbudan artists whose works I felt were a good match for the story. They liked Heather Doram’s work and negotiated with her for the use of said work. Interestingly enough, the piece we reached out to her about is not the piece that was posted with the story…it was one of several pieces that Heather sent during the back and forth. When both I and the Commonwealth Writers rep saw it, we knew it was the perfect match for the story. I am thankful to Heather D., an icon in the Caribbean art world, for agreeing to the use of Fusion and for going the extra mile to make it post-ready. And I am thankful for placing my fiction in yet another place that will hopefully continue to bring not just my writing, but writing from Antigua and Barbuda, to new and far-flung readers.