A Mother’s Sacrifice

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.

***

That was an excerpt from my story Zombie Island, currently published in Interviewing the Caribbean edited by Opal Palmer Adisa. In an interview also featured in the issue, she asked me this about writing a zombie story,

‘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.’

My response?

the-walking-dead-season-6-zombies

Zombies on one of my fave TV shows (in spite of the current season), The Walking Dead.

“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.”

 

Also in the issue are interviews with Mervyn Morris, Kendel Hippolyte, Hope Brooks, Merle Collins, Patricia Powell; poety by Corinne Lincoln-Pinheiro and Lou Smith; a story by Ivory Kelly; and more (I’m still reading).

Post-note:

With Grace is no longer “shortly due out as a children’s picture book”; it’s been out.
I also recently did a post on another newly published story The Other Daughter.
You’re welcome to check out my other fiction and, of course, my books.

Thanks for reading.

Adda Mi Seh: Journey to Publication (The Other Daughter)

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 rigors 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.

My other published works of short fiction are listed here and my books are listed here.

Whose Gaze? Whose Story? Whose POV?

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Earlier today, a writer friend of mine asked her facebook friends to name a “globally acclaimed/commercially successful novel published in the last 20-30 years that does not have an American/British character or any other significant connection to the US/UK (plot, setting etc.)?” This book was to be written in English and could not be a translation.

She received lots of suggestions but also lots of acknowledgment that it’s a tall order – so many of the books that cross over to the big time are centered in or center the Western (often white American, white European) imagination. This is something I’ve become keenly aware of as someone who grew up in the Caribbean (specifically part of the former British West Indies); geographically, also, part of the Americas (among the smaller parts of the larger part of the Western Hemisphere) and so close to North America that the running joke is that if America (specifically the USA) sneezes the Caribbean catch cold. Those of us in the English speaking Caribbean grow up reading a lot of books, watching a lot of films/TV, listening to a lot of music from other places – in my generation, primarily North America; a generation or more ago when we were still a colony/colonies, primarily Britain.

But it’s not just American culture writ large but whiteness that is privileged in a lot of what crosses over – it’s a trope we see regularly in literature and film we consume: the white savior character (To Kill a Mockingbird – one of my all time favourite books, The Help, 12 Years a Slave etc.) to stories that only seem to matter in relation to their relation to whiteness (e.g. Cry Freedom in which both Steve Biko and Denzel Washington, who played him, were supporting characters in a story about apartheid). And it raises the question, does even regional literature too often have its gaze turned toward the West or too keen an awareness of the West’s gaze on it, and spotlights how rare it is for books that don’t to claim the global spotlight (markers of which are commercial and critical success).

with_grace

One of the things I enjoy about the existence of my latest book With Grace is that it is a fairytale that centres a little black girl in a Caribbean space who saves herself – subverting racial, cultural, gender tropes typical of the fairytale genre. Now I just need it to do the crossover thing. As an aside, perhaps this limited its crossoverability, but one of my favourite reader reviews of my novel Oh Gad! was the one that referred to it as “unapologetically Antiguan”. Among my other books, Musical Youth, touches on the theme of colourism in the black community, a bi-product of the multi-generational centering of whiteness.

Anyway, I’m using this post to share some of the books I shared and some of the books shared by others in response to my friend’s post for those of us seeking to de-centre the West and whiteness in the literary art we consume. Let me be clear, there are lots of Western books and lots of books centering whiteness that are favourites of mine, but my point and the point of the original post, I believe, is that they are so pervasive that engaging with art that’s almost indifferent to the white gaze (Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston come to mind) is a bit of revolutionary reading (and absolutely necessary in a world where all people need/deserve to see themselves). And even if you don’t care about all of that, it’s good to step out of our comfort zone for a bit, even if only on the page.

So, the criteria (no more than 30 years old, critically and commercially successful, a novel, no Brits or American people or places), I mentioned initially too bona fide literary stars who are multi-award winners deified by critics and fans alike Marlon James’ night-womenBook of Night Women and History of Seven Killings (Jamaica) and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s The Thing Around Her Neck and Half of a Yellow Sun (Nigeria) – except these prove the difficulty of the challenge because Book does have British characters though, as I pointed out, it centers the African-Caribbean Night Women of the title; and I haven’t yet read History or Sun, the latter, it was pointed out to me also has a major English character. And Thing is a short story collection not a novel (and even there the impact of colonialism is felt).

Challenged to consider some other, specifically Caribbean possibilities, I mentioned the following though most are more critical than commercial successes (in brackets are my notes, not mentioned in my response to the post).

Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid (coming of age story set in Antigua; its first publishing may fall just outside the 30 years but my discovery of it doesn’t so I’m counting it as it’s the book that helped me begin to claim that being a writer wasn’t beyond my imagining – our stories mattered too)

oscar-waoThe Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Pulitzer winning, Dominican – Sp. writer; book largely based in the US with Dominican characters coming of age in the US but which very much centers Dominican culture and history)

Buxton Spice by Oonya Kempadoo (This writer is connected to several countries but this first book is set in her home country of Guyana)

The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Dandicat (Haitian writer, easily one of my favourite writers and one of my favourite books on this list; and she along with Diaz and Kincaid probably best hits the sweet spot of critical and commercial success while being post-colonial…I think)

Fear of Stones by Kei Miller (Jamaican writer, not a novel; he does have novels, I just haven’t read them yet)

Gone to Drift by Diana McCaulay (Jamaican writer, award winning young adult novel)

tearsIt Begins with Tears by Opal Palmer Adisa (set in deep rural Jamaica)

Ladies of the Night by Althea Prince (I believe there’s one story set in Canada where Prince lives, but the rest of the women in this book couldn’t be more Antiguan if they tried; another not-novel though, a short story collection)

Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid (one of my faves, Antiguan main character, set in America though)

Prospero’s Daughter by Elizabeth Nunez (does it count as de-centering if you take Shakespeare’s Tempest, update it to the 20th century, set it in Trinidad, and shift the point of view?)

Waiting in Vain by Colin Channer (a very sensual book by a Jamaican writer; the locale shifts – the US, Jamaica, England though, so)

The Swinging Bridge by Ramabai Espinet (Espinet is an Indo-Trinidadian writer based in Canada, her book moves between all three worlds)

Unburnable by Marie Elena John (another Antiguan writer though this book is intriguingly a journey through the socio-cultural history of Dominica – Fr., and the main character is more American, albeit African-American, than Caribbean)

The Whale House and Other Stories by Sharon Millar (not a novel, but a must-read story collection by a Trini writer)

I also rec’d Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean…and not just because my story Amelia at Devil’s Bridge is in it.

Some of the other books mentioned by more well-read people than me were disgraceDisgrace by J. M. Coetzee (South Africa), The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (India), The Vegetarian (South Korea), A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (India), Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (Mexico), Changes by Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana), Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil (India), The Bone People by Keri Hulme (New Zealand), The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan), Snow by Orhan Pamuk (Turkey), stoneThe Fall of the Stone City by Ishmael Kadare (Albania), Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra (India), The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka (Malaysia). I’ll also mention that if Ireland counts I love a good Maeve Binchy; from Nigeria, I’d also add Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions; likely anything by Earl Lovelace should be part of this conversation, though his more recent books are still on my to-read list; and the original poster’s own book eveningEvening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan (Malaysia).

I’m stopping there because this ran longer than intended. But chime in, what would you add to such a list?

p.s. this doesn’t include books I’ve received but it does include many books I’ll be adding to my wish list so I’m making it my Mailbox Monday.

It’s Sunday Somewhere

I’ve never done one of these Sunday Posts before and as I write this it’s actually Saturday, so I’m probably doing this all wrong. Plus, there hasn’t been a lot new on the blog this past week (life gets in the way). But I figure I’ll give it a go anyway.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer through which participant bloggers (book bloggers especially) share news of the past and coming week by my understanding of it.

So, What’s New?

Fair warning, this is a little more than the past week because, well, I haven’t been here much this past week (life gets in the way).

This gives me the opportunity to go back a little and I’m thrilled since I am still in book promo mode for my children’s book With Grace. with_graceThis is a post I did on where the book can fit in to the conversation on diversity in children’s lit and especially fairytales.

When life gets in the way, movies can be a good distraction from stir craziness – ironic that one of the movies that’s stuck with me is about a boy and his mom stuck in a room but as you can tell from this blog, I really liked Room.

This next one won’t mean much to anyone outside of Antigua and Barbuda, where I am, but the annual writing Challenge I run here wrapped this past week and while this post is about the patrons, I have to give thanks for the partners (the volunteers without whom I would not have been able to do this…especially this year).

I added a new (or a few new) writing credits, all in Interviewing the Caribbean which published two of my poems Election Season and the Bamboo Raft, and the Zombie Story I wrote when I was feeling in an experimental mode. Reading through the issue which is really quite deep and rich, it tickles me that my zombie story found a place in a proper literary journal.

The other thing you do when life gets in the way is read. So I finished the second book in the Glamourist Histories, Glamour in Glass, and posted my review. That’s my only really new post of the past week.

I received a new book just last night – a friend of mine was doing a huge book purge and I was happy to have a book that’s been on my to read list for a while jump the line. So, I’m about to start Edward P. Jones’ The Known World. And I’m still actively reading a few other books including The Black Rose by Tananarive Due, The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly, and All the Joy You can Stand by Debrena Jackson Gandy.

Can’t say what’s coming up specifically this week for the blog because I don’t blog like that, but I promise to try to keep it interesting.

 

Wadadli Pen’s 2017 Patrons

Originally posted on Wadadli Pen: UPDATED! to add ECAB “Did You Know? With its anthro- root, philanthropy means literally “love of mankind”. Thus, philanthropy is giving money for a purpose or cause benefiting people who you don’t personally know. Individuals have often set up their own permanent philanthropic organizations in the form of foundations. The…

via Wadadli Pen 2017 Challenge Patrons — Wadadli Pen

Room and Other Movies

So I just saw Room.

And though Brie Larson won a deserved Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Ma/Joy Newsome, I have to say it’s little Jack, played by Jacob Tremblay, who stole my heart.room

It was a combination of the writing and direction, and the way Tremblay tapped in to the emotional (non) complexity of a little boy content in his Room, scared and confused when he’s forced in to the vast world beyond it, and slowly opening up and adapting to it, as kids do.room3

One of the things that struck me was how the writers got that children accept the world they’re born in to. They don’t know any different. And so Room is the world, egg snake is a friend/pet/toy, and everything they see on the TV is make believe. It reminded me of conversations with one of my nephews (perhaps the most imaginative and naturally poetic of them) about what’s real and what isn’t – of how we’d be watching a cartoon and he’d want to know if they were real. Jack wondered the same thing about Dora the Explorer when Ma started to introduce him to the reality that the world was not the world as he’d understood it, as she’d defined it for him. room2

Okay, a little back story if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, the reason why Room is the world is because Joy and Jack are captives there, held in a garden shed by Old Nick. Joy had been there seven years by the time the film started (which put Larson’s character at about 24 years old) and Jack had just turned five. We’ve seen Old Nick on the news in real life (the Ariel Castros and Philip Garridos of the world) – a variation of the nondescript guy who holds a duped child captive for years in an improbable space for a baffling length of time. Every time we see one of these stories, we are like Jack, discovering that the world as we know it doesn’t make any sense.

The actor playing Jack was so effective, he pulled reactions from me with his playful exploration of his room, his tantrum over his lack of birthday candles (not aware, in the way children never are, that his mother is hanging on to her sanity by a thread), his sneaking out of the closet he’s supposed to stay in when Old Nick visits (i.e. comes to rape his mother – though he doesn’t understand that that’s what’s happening) lured by the chocolate he knows is there, his initial rejection of her revised story of the world, his tentative acceptance of it, his fear and frustration as he practices the escape plan, everything. My heart was in my hand as I lay in the back of that pick-up with him willing him to remember Ma’s instructions. He didn’t get it quite right but he did enough to get somebody’s attention and get the police involved – and that scene with the police officer as she tries to make sense of the little information he’s able to give her is one of my favourites.

When the perspective of the film widens, it becomes more standard fare, the perspective not quite as tight and whimsical but in Jack’s silences and his wide-eyed searching and yearning, in the way nothing quite makes sense to him anymore, in the bond between him and his mother, I remain linked to the story and stay rooting for him and his mom to make it back to healthy.

Room is worth seeing (but grab a tissue and maybe a hand to squeeze during that escape sequence). It explores without needing to provide definitive answers, what is real, how do you survive the impossible, and proves the adaptability of the human spirit.

Since we’re here, other movies I’ve seen recently include Zootopia (funny if a bit predictable); Deadpool (hilllllarious!); Moonlight (sublime, poetic, timely); Loving (quiet, powerful, touching); Rogue One (which, though I’m a total Star Wars fan girl, I liked more than I expected to); Arrival (which didn’t hook me – ahem I might have fallen asleep – but kudos to Amy Adams for anchoring it, she’s always good); and Hidden Figures (seriously, where’s Taraji’s Oscar nomination?). hidden-figures

A good run.

There. Mostly caught up ahead of the Academy Awards.

How about you, what have you watched recently?

 

And are you caught up on my books  yet?

 

Other movies reviewed on this site are: Bazodee, Birdman and FoxcatcherCreedQueen of Katwe, and Spotlight.