Writing is work…editing is necessary

‘In June 2016 I finished a complete rewrite. I revisited that 9 page final critique and confirmed I had addressed all the points. And I did so to the best of my ability. I say this because I had no more added value to contribute, losing objectivity and certainly a perspective on its development. I needed an objective someone who could add value. I turned to the last sentence on the last page of my last critique, “…but it has plenty of potential…with some developmental editing and polishing, I think it will really shine,” confirmed my belief. I was ready for the next step – developmental edit, the added value.’

I found the Nancy Chadwick-Burke article at shewrites.com, quoted above, an interesting read for its insights to the drafting, redrafting, redrafting, and redrafting again process as you try to get to the story…and then after all of that, the editing. No I’m not sharing it just to promote my editing services, though now that you mention it. But I really enjoyed reading this article because much as we like to think of writing as pure inspiration, it is in the words of Rihanna workworkworkworkwork have a read as Chadwick-Burke peels back the curtain on the process.

What have I accomplished?

A friend and I were discussing this recently
Are we ever having a mid life crisis lol

I’ve been thinking though that in this main event (this is not the dress rehearsal, people!) that is life, what have I accomplished may be the wrong question.

I realize at this time that all the physical stuff even health can come and go
…but what lingers is…
gbi
The memories I’ve made (yes, even the ones tinged by loss)
The adventures I’ve had
The genuine (emphasis on genuine) connections along the way…the ones that surprise and delight…and make it safe to be yourfullself…
The young people including nieces and nephews whose lives I’ve been blessed to be a part of
The act of creating including the creating (and ongoing survival and growth) of Wadadli Pen
The fact that I am out here freelancing, finding my own rhythm (even when I’m fussing about it…even when I’m short of money and …even though I had a moment of wtf when I realized just how long I’ve been obstinately claiming this against the odds existence…even when I’m tired and want to go to sleep)…that there’s music…
The ways I continue to learn…the things I had to figure out how to do…and could then add to my skill set… (way too many times to count)…

The stories…the ones I read…the ones I write…the ones I’m yet to discover…happiness is the pen flying across the page, my fingers flying across the keys, cramping but urgent…mind skipping along like a child at play…unhinged…from the ways life tries to anchor it…

That I am a writer jamaicajoanne-2015-at-v-i-lit-fest(wait, let me put that in bold and type it again in all caps…the little gyal from Ottos, Antigua is a living, breathing, working WRITER…stamped in her passport…which has stamps of all the places writing has taken her…still with her head buried in a book or her eyes turned inward toward the stories in her head…taking in life, recording it for later)

Sunsets, san’flies, semi-warm pizza, semi-cold beer, friendship, someone who gets you…happy moments are made of moments like this… long drives and endless conversation…the magic in the mundane moments…the flights of fancy and actual flights…the memories that linger after the life is gone…and the pen to capture it all with…

on-election-night-june-12-2014-at-the-beach-with-marcella-bren-and-barbara

Could I life better?…for sure, for sure …as I told a friend recently, I need to work on sharpening my learning curve …but even if it all goes fubar after I write this (side-eyeing Murphy)…everything is everything… choosing the uncut path has never been easy…but along the way, there’s been writing, journeying, adventuring, laughs and relationships (mixed in with the disappointments and losses…and oh the stresses!)…all part of life-ing.

The Death of Mr. Richardson

This is about five words over. Sorry, Michelle, but it’s your fault for posting a picture prompt with so much story.

“It took me a long time to understand that what had happened between us was twisted. He’d trained his lens on me before I knew who I was and for years after I lived as though only his focus made me real, as if I didn’t know who I was if he wasn’t …framing me.”

Danisha stopped typing. She felt like she needed a shower. She looked at the picture that had started it all. At the child in the background doing childish things and the other girl, looking on, hair pulled in to a pony tail. And then at the woman-child who was for a time the centre of the famous now infamous photographer’s imagination. Tossled morning-after hair, a cigarette that wasn’t a mere prop, a dress fit for a girl older than… how old was she in that picture…Danisha checked her notes…13.

At thirteen, she’d been crushing on Brad Pitt but hadn’t yet quite put away Barbie.

“A girl is not a woman. She needs protection from vultures. But Hollyweird is the kind of fairytale in which mothers and fathers shove their babies in to the wolf’s maw.”

It was pure chance the way everything had come together. News of his death by evisceration, and the scandalous pictures and videos the tossing of his studio had turned up travelling across the world to the vineyard in Italy, where Danisha had gone to be a writer. “It’s a good place to be a cliché,” the woman who bore only a fading resemblance to the girl in the picture had said in the dry way she said everything. She had retreated there years earlier. And now his death had put her in a talkative mood. “They’ll come anyway,” she said.

It would be Danisha’s biggest headline yet; if she could just get through writing it.

Bazodee *with spoilers*be aware*

 

LAST WARNING: SERIOUSLY! Read only after watching the movie for yourself…then come back here and fight me.

Okay. Here we go.

My impression of Bazodee wasn’t as damning as this Variety review. In fact, I found it rather charming; good for what it was – a silly, improbable, festive romp that resolved its dramas, such as they were, and entertained its audience before restlessness set in.

Silly

The silliness was there in the tone and set-ups. E.g. Girl goes to the airport to pick up her fiancée and his family and promptly gets turned around by a guy and his ukelele, and that bit of infatuation at first sight changes both their lives – makes him rediscover his love for music and positions him for a meteoric comeback; makes her forget her betrothed. E.g. Girl and guy plot a hook up between her cousin and one of her in-laws-to-be that involves a paddle boat and a stranded island, a coconut, and song.  It is there in the comedic lines and light delivery (shout out to Soul Boy for one of the best and driest deliveries of one of these laugh lines) even when the stakes are high – when the grandmother of the character played by soca star Machel Montano takes a long walk across the construction site where he’s landed after giving up on music (and love), thrusts his guitar at him, and gives him the look, that was comedy gold, and not a word was spoken.

Improbable

All the silliness described above also falls in line with the improbable but perhaps the biggest one is the suspension of disbelief required to make me believe that a businessman who had the savvy to set up a project as ambitious as the one he set up, also had the naiveté to sign it away just so. Don’t buy it. That the jealous son tunnel-visioned on maliciousness and winning would, after a little hard talk and bacchanal, change his whole ethos to the point of giving back the thing he took. Just so. Don’t buy that either. That the two families would nice-back easy-easy so…and what about the hurt feelings of the jilted fiancé? In fact, where was the jilted fiancé while everybody dancing and getting down happy happy in the end? Don’t buy it. But it made for a nice, pat resolution which the tone of the film promised from the beginning.

Festive

You remember those old Hollywood technicolor films where people would just burst in to song like it normal normal? Well, this have plenty of that, and in that regard, it has the soul of an old Hollywood musical where everything can be fixed with a bit of song

and a lot of Carnival.

Drama

The main drama is the star-crossed Romeo and Juliet business between the main characters – he’s an entertainer, she’s her dad’s business muse; he’s impetuous, she’s sensible except when she’s impetuous like when she sneaks off to be with him and kisses him in full view of any and any cell phone; he’s black, she’s Indian – as she reminds him when she wants to shoo him from pestering her so she can go back to being a sensible girl. The secondary drama is the business deal she and her dad are trying to seal up with her fiancé’s family – some class, big island (England) small island (Trinidad), and possibly some intra-ethnic prejudices come in to play. The tertiary drama is his quest to find his passion for music again. The tension in drama is heightened by the stakes and here the stakes never feel particularly high. Even when she and her dad fall from their high perch for instance, where they land seems relatively comfortable. The most high tension moment might’ve been when she was out with her friend-staffer (and there is some class-privilege issues that could be addressed there but I won’t bother get in to that) and the fiancé and his brother go looking for them in the midst of the J’ouvert where she was hooked up with the singer…except in a classic rom-com bait and switch by the time the door swing open on the hooked up lovers, the friend-staffer is the one in the singer’s lap. Because that happens.

So, since I brought the Bard and his famed lovers in to this, if you think of Bazodee (the state of forgetting onesself) as one of Shakespeare’s sillier comedies (obviously not Romeo and Juliet which was neither a comedy nor a romance) and take it for what it’s worth, you’ll leave the theatre in light spirits. And, considering all of the silly American and British romantic comedies whose improbabilities and low stakes dramas we’ve enjoyed (hey remember that time Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan met for the first time and fell promptly in love atop the Empire State Building? How about the time Bridget Jones didn’t get frostbite? ), I don’t think the particular Trinidad-ness of this story need be a negative. Enjoy it for what it is: a silly, festive romp with quickly resolved dramas and nice music.

Article by Joanne C. Hillhouse, who has nothing against rom-coms or silliness. Feel free to reblog with link and fresh press (please do) but Do  not re-publish without permission and credit. Click the links for my books and/or my services.

About those Slave Narratives

Shortly after tripping down the dark tunnel of research into aspects of our history for a project I was working on and a conversation with a friend about why we (black people) sometimes reject the re-telling or remembrance of this aspect of our history (yes, I’m talking about the enslavement of our ancestors), I was reminded of this piece I wrote back in June just as Roots, the reboot, was getting ready to air (and Snoop was encouraging his fans and followers to boycott). That’s the context; read (and, if so moved, share and share your thoughts).

mv5bndmyotqxmtuzov5bml5banbnxkftztcwmja4ndc2mq__v1_cr030250141_al_ux477_cr00477268_al_

A moment from the original Roots (based on the book by Alex Haley), the broadcast of which set viewing records and has become an indelible part of the black American (and black Caribbean) understanding of the slavery experience.

Watching Roots? Good.

I also wish to applaud WGN America for ordering a second season of Underground.

I know we’re tired of these slave narratives – and really Hollywood does need to do better in terms of telling stories that reflect the full spectrum of the lives of people outside of their default white setting then and now. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. There’s a lot we, descendants of the real life equivalent of Kunta and Noah, still stand to learn about ourselves from the stories; no not of us being beaten down by racism, but surviving it. They did not break us.

One of the things the series, Underground, reinforces is contrary to their status as mere chattel, enslaved Africans or Africa-descended people, naturally built community even during the darkest days of their enslavement.

The series is about the bid for freedom via the Underground railroad from America’s south to its north, and I was naturally curious in part because I’ve never seen a series deal specifically with the Underground railroad. I think about the daring escape attempts in to the dark, blind, and the ingenuity and intelligence it must have taken to map a way to freedom. That interested me, the ways that system worked. Plus, in general, history (and especially our story) intrigues me, and, I’m noticing, especially those points of history that reflect our darker impulses – enslavement of Africans in the Americas, for instance, and the genocide of Jews during the Second World War.

There’s a part of me that’s trying to understand not only how these things happen but how they continue to happen as people go about their lives – not the people on either end of the extremes of the Happening but so-called good people turning a blind eye to the evil being normalized around them. There’s a part of me that has an awareness that such moments are happening in our times – after all slavery has not ended, not for whole swaths of people, victimization of marginalized groups persists even in free societies, political activists are locked up for their words – as we go about our lives; and that history may be as unkind to us as it is not just to the slave owners and the Nazis but the people who took the path of least resistance or willful blindness.

There’s a part of me that’s fascinated by not just how the oppressed people survive such times while the silent majority pretends what’s happening isn’t happening, but by how they manage to make life. How do you make life when your life isn’t even your own? In Underground’s first episode a new mother kills her baby. I understand this as the ultimate act of love and sacrifice for a woman enslaved and brutalized who can see nothing but more of the same for her newborn child – maybe she was post-partum, we understand now that such a thing exists, but maybe there were no hormones involved at all, just a rebellious desire to save her child’s life and deny her oppressors more of the godlike power they enjoyed. More baffling to me – although it makes perfect sense – is the daring to love when not even your intentions are your own to own.

And so when I saw the episode with the cotillion, questions buzzed. How remarkable that this social practice – a courtship and/or debutante ball associated with black high society – has its roots in slavery; a reminder that they didn’t just scrounge a living, they made life. A human heart beat in their chest and it beat with desire just as ours does today; and it embraced the rituals of community, a reminder to themselves that they were people, building new traditions from a blend of half-remembered traditions from home and the aspiration to mirror the society they’d landed in. The Encyclopedia of African American Popular Culture describes cotillions and the male-equivalent beautillions as an enduring part of popular African American culture “preparing youth for their entrance into society” and points to its roots in the Emancipation era American south “when the budding but fragile middle class recreated activities held by plantation owners”. Underground goes a little further back still, as the characters involved in the filmed cotillion are definitely intended to represent the practice, pre-Emancipation. As filmed, the women wear ribbons and the men wear flowers and they line up in pairs and they dance underground-war-chest-feature
– and for a few hours are just a boy and a girl, engaged in as described in the Encyclopedia “a lively dance”. I like this moment for its reflection of the humanity that persists even in darkest days, of the ways people find to build society, build community, at such times.

 

Beyond this early episode, I found many other reasons to write and blog the insights born of watching Underground’s first season. (You can search ‘Underground’ for those postings on this site)

I don’t feel diminished by watching and engaging this history though my ancestors came to the Americas (in my case, the Caribbean) as enslaved people, because the thing I always remember is that they were people first, enslaved, yes, but still people; and that because of them, I am.

post-script: I didn’t think I’d like the Roots re-boot because, raised on the original which showed every year here in Antigua (you know when), I was like but-why. But you know what, it was its own thing while being respectful of the original, and the one didn’t take away from the other for me. Plus I liked the Chicken George character a lot more in this new version.

Article by Joanne C. Hillhouse, still a student of life and history, and the ways they intersect, still. Feel free to reblog with link and fresh press (please do) but Do  not re-publish without permission and credit. Click the links for my books and/or my services.

Barbados: Chattel House Books Pop-ups

Chattel House Books in Barbados is one of the regional/Caribbean bookstores that carries my books – Musical Youth and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight (the 10th anniversary edition), The Boy from Willow Bend, and Oh Gad!

books

Chattel House at the 2016 BIM Literary Festival.

In a recent mail, they announced that they’ll be relocating (from Sky Mall) and during the transition plan a number of pop ups, at which they have assured me my books will be for sale. So, I just thought I’d share the pop-up locations:

1. The Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) Business Meetings & State of the Industry Conference (SOTIC)- Tues, Sept 13- Fri, Sept 16
2.  Cubana Book Exhibition/ Sale- Mon, Oct 3- Sat, Oct 8
3. Cynthia Wilson’s Book Launch (by Invitation only)- Thurs, Oct 6- 6-8 p.m.
4. The BLP’s St. James North Branch’s Tea Party at #10 Waterhall Terrace #2, St. James- Sat, Nov 5- 3-6 p.m.
5. Victor Richards’ Book Launch- Sat, Nov 26- 6-8 p.m.
p.s. Chattel House will still be filling customer orders through their Barbados Community College location and their Belle Location.

p.p.s. Some other places where you can find my books in the Caribbean.

Hollywood, why are you so unambitious?

I was half watching Stepmom, a movie I never paid attention to when it came out.  My main impression apart from a stray observation about how bratty and privileged the kids came off was how unpleasant the Susan Sarandon character seemed – and I was okay with that. It’s okay to be bitter and unpleasant, unlikeable, in fiction as in life, if the rug of your life has been pulled out from under you. Like, it’s okay to not be a saint. But then they upped the sanctified-ness and gave her cancer, to redeem her in the viewers’ eyes I suppose, make her more likeable by making us feel sorry for her: Unnecessary and manipulative in my view. But that’s only me half watching it (maybe there’s more to the story or the backstory).

The thing that really caught my eye, though, was the credits. How had I half-watched two thirds of this film and not noted that Lynn Whitfield was in it? Okay, the half-watching thing, but still…how did they manage to make someone as talented and sexy as Lynn Whitfield blend in to the background?

3362_6_screenshot

Scene from Stepmom – that’s Susan Sarandon and I’m 89% sure the back of Lynn Whitfield’s head.

That’s some Hollywood magic right there.1374787170_1-lynn-whitfield

Who is Lynn Whitfield, you ask?

She won a ton of awards for the Josephine Baker Story0026359057120_p0_v2_s1200x630 back in the day but I remember her from films like the underrated western Silverado, the superlative mini-series Women of Brewster Place

edfa984737fceff90453bd52370e9f47

That’s Lynn to Oprah’s left in red and white polka dots and pearls.

and the darkly magical Eve’s Bayou, and more recently you might know her from the Chris Rock comedy Head of State, a Madea film or two, a guest appearance on your favourite TV show (How to Get Away with Murder), or the new OWN show, Greenleaf.
greenleaf-lynn-whitfield-poster (sidebar: speaking of OWN series, check out Ava Duvernay’s Sugar. Thank me later.)

And I found myself wondering why she wasn’t more of a thing – why, like Viola Davis playing the best friend in Eat Pray Love, she was relegated to playing fourth fiddle to Julia Roberts. I mean, I get that Roberts has been America’s Sweetheart since the one-two punch of Steel Magnolias and Pretty Woman but still in a world as colour blind as people like to pretend Hollywood (not so colour blind after all) is, a talent and beauty like Lynn’s would have had more of an opportunity to come through. Yes? Yes, I know she’s worked steadily over the years and in some quality stuff too but there seems no denying that outside of all-black or predominantly black productions she’s not seen as a main attraction, merely the girlfriend to the main attraction or, as was the case with Stepmom, the doctor I barely noticed (though, again, I was only half-watching).

I found myself doing some mental re-casting, like what if she’d played one of the main roles. It’s not so crazy, right? I mean this was 1998, Lynn was just coming off of the successful Martin Lawrence (i.e. the 1990s Kevin Hart) film A Thin Line Between Love and Hate mainand the critically acclaimed Eve’s Bayoueves-bayou, and was surely ripe for more mainstream fare. She had sultriness (in fact, if you look up sultry in the dictionary, you might see her picture staring back at you), she had acting chops (see earlier reference to the Women of Brewster Place and specifically *spoiler alert* the scenes after the death of her child), Hollywood already knew of her charisma and ability to fill up a screen (they’d given her an Emmy for inhabiting the charismatic Josephine Baker), so why not imagine her as a leading lady in a mainstream (read: targeted at white audiences) film; and with it being an ensemble cast they wouldn’t even be risking box office – keep Julia or Sarandon, no actually keep Sarandon, now imagine her and Lynn going toe to toe as they tuggah-tuggah re the boundaries of their new familial relationship (as bitter ex-wife and try-hard new wife to Ed Harris…yes, Ed Harris). Can you see how electric that tension would have been? Not Meryl Streep-Viola Davis in Doubt electric maybe but enough to zing a little. Don’t get me wrong, I like Julia Roberts, and I get that she was America’s sweetheart and roles were hers for the discarding. But Hollywood you played it safe, as you always do. Why can you only imagine black actors in uber-black-and-often-stereotypical roles or as the doctor/best friend/wall paper, nothing in-between (only a slight exaggeration; you know how you are)? It’s really your loss as you could have broadened the demographic for this film without deliberately inserting race in to it, just by casting the actress who was an obvious fit for the second (reviled but she’s not that bad once you get to know her) wife role. I mean, she was right there.

3362_6_screenshot

Yeah, pretty sure that’s the back of Lynn’s head.

No worries. I’ll let my imagination do the job for you. If I ever watch Stepmom again (doubtful, but still) I think I’ll imagine it with my fantasy casting…and less bratty kids.

 

==END==

If this is your first time here, I am Joanne C. Hillhouse. I write books , I write articles (including a personal essay earlier this year for my dream publication Essence), and provide writing and writing related services. And I blog all kinds of stuff including pop culture (Queen Latifah, Natalie Cole, Supernatural, the Walking Dead, Underground, Creed, Survivor’s Remorse among other such). Read, say things, share, come again. Bless.