In the Race

I’m on this list nomsof 2018 nominees for the Astrid Lindgren prize.

First, happy dance!


(no I’m not a redheaded white girl but Charlie is a Supernatural fave plus I couldn’t find the Jessica James dancing gif)

Okay, reality check, I’m one of 235 candidates from 60 countries nominated …but a long shot is still a shot, right? Can’t win if you’re not even in the race and I am. Here’s a downloadable version of the nominated candidates: nomi_2018_web

Thanks to my nominator for taking the time to read the work (With Grace) and fill out the forms (I know it was a pain); you didn’t have to and I appreciate that you did.

FYI: The The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) – named for the beloved Swedish author of Pippi Longstocking, Mio, and other great characters – and administered by the Swedish Arts Council, is the world’s largest award for children’s and young adult literature. Authors, illustrators, oral storytellers, and reading promoters are eligible for the award (I am nominated as both an author and reading promoter). An expert jury selects the laureate(s) from candidates nominated by institutions and organizations all over the world. Seriously, there are nominees from the US to the UAE. The winner will be announced on March 27th 2018 and, in the tradition of also-rans everywhere, it is an honour just to be nominated.


Shelf Control – Pick Two

This is unusual. My second post today. But I’m waiting for my computer to do this thing that it’s doing so, again, why not. This one is for Shelf Control (a meme started by Book Shelf Fantasies) and discovered on and inspired by Zeezee with Books.

So like Zeezee I’m pulling two books from my shelf – books which honestly I won’t be getting to for a while as there are already too many books in my active reading pile (at various stages of read/unread). Pulled at random, they are Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal and Inner City Girl by Colleen Smith-Dennis. Here’s the breakdown:


Title: Without a Summer

Author: Mary Robinette Kowal

Genre: historical (regency era) speculative (with fantasy elements) fiction

Published: 2014

Summary: Up-and-coming fantasist Mary Robinette Kowal enchanted fans with her novels Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass, which introduced Regency glamourists Jane and David Vincent. In Without a Summer, Jane and Vincent take a break from their international travels. But in a world where magic is real, nothing—even the domestic sphere—is quite what it seems.

After a dramatic trip to Belgium, Jane and Vincent go to Long Parkmeade to spend time with Jane’s family, but quickly turn restless. The spring is unseasonably cold, and no one wants to be outside. Mr. Ellsworth is concerned about the harvest, since a poor one may imperil Melody’s dowry. And Melody has concerns of her own, given the inadequate selection of local eligible bachelors.

When Jane and Vincent receive a commission from a prominent London family, they take it, and bring Melody with them. They hope the change of scenery will do her good, and her marriage prospects—and mood—will be brighter in London. Talk here frequently turns to increased unemployment of coldmongers and riots in nearby villages by Luddites concerned that their way of life is becoming untenable. With each passing day, it’s more difficult to avoid getting embroiled in the intrigue, which does not really help Melody’s chances for romance. It doesn’t take long for Jane and Vincent to realize that in addition to arranging a wedding, they must take on one small task: solving a crisis of national proportions.

Where I got it: From the author

When I got it: About a year ago (I think)

Why I got it: I had done some editing work for the author on a later book in the series and she sent me the entire series plus copies of the book I’d worked on. I’ve so far read and reviewed two other books in the series – Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass.



Title: Inner City Girl

Author: Colleen Smith-Dennis

Genre: teen/young adult Caribbean fiction

Published: 2009

Summary: Martina does the unthinkable: a poor girl from the inner city gains entry into one of the most prestigious high schools in the country. Milverton High, situated on a hill with its picturesque surroundings, students from the upper echelons of society and teachers who do not neccessarily understand, contrasts with the poverty, hunger and family problems which Martina encounters. But Martina is not about to succumb to ridicule, rejection, and poverty. Milverton High! Here she comes – defying all the odds!

Where I got it: via CODE, sponsors of the Burt Award, and the publisher LMH Publishing

When I got it: 2014

Why I got it: This book – along with All over Again and my own Musical Youth was a top three finisher for the inaugural Burt Award in 2014. As part of the prize copies of the books were printed for distribution to teens across the Caribbean. I assisted with getting some of the books out in Antigua.

As for that active reading pile (which I blogged about in September), progress is slow but the one that has me most engaged at the moment is Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings.

How about you? What’s on your shelf?

Throwback Review – Gone to Drift

Over at Dressed to Read, I just read about the Throwback Thursday meme created by It’s Book Talk and thought, why not. So, here’s one of mine.

Diana McCaulay, the author of this book, a finalist for the Burt Award for teen/young adult fiction has since inked a deal for a US edition of the book (image to the right), originally published in the Caribbean (image to the left) – so congrats to her. Of course, since there’s a new edition in a different market, this throwback is also new. It was originally published in 2016 – you can read an interview posted to my blog at the time of the release, here. Gone to Drift, in simplest terms, is the story of a young boy in a desperate race against the clock to find and rescue his grandfather who has gone missing – while trying to say ahead of those who are ill-intentioned. As his people are poor fisher-folk, the story’s environmental theme fits comfortably with the plot and as you grow to care about the boy your heart sits uncomfortably in your chest.

An introduction to my review

Remove the sub-text about the larger environmental issues and you still have a pulse quickening drama, and a poignant social narrative, at the  heart of which is a boy you come to not only root for but love. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Lloydie managed at least twice to bring tears to my eyes.

was posted to my Blogger on Books series (when it was still over at my other blog) and then jumped to the full post excerpted below:

The irony is the very things we are so quick to uproot and destroy in the name of tourism are the very things which add to our appeal as a tourist destination. And that’s what was on my mind as the tension ramped up in Gone to Drift – a young boy racing against the clock to save his grandfather, a fisherman who had run afoul of dolphin poachers.

McCaulay is good at what she does. Among her strengths, characterization – as I said Lloydie is as real to me as my own nephews and I feel as protective; and world building. World building, you say, but her story is set in Jamaica, it already exists. It does and it doesn’t. She admits to fictionalizing parts of that world. But even if you think you know that world, what she and all good writers remind us is that there is general knowing and there is specific knowing. And this is a world specifically of men and women of the sea. She had to put us there, then when the grandfather was a boy coming of age in St. Elizabeth and now, the bleaker reality Lloyd lives in in Kingston, where the sea has become a desert and desperate men and women make ill-conceived choices. She draws that world vividly and poignantly and beautifully.

My instinct to re-post this one has to do in part with my concerns about the tug-o-war between the environment and culture, and commerce – my concerns about what we value, in the wake of hurricane Irma and the revival of the debate over land traditionally held in communal ownership over in my sister island, Barbuda. Not entirely related to some of the concerns intertwined in my initial review, but not entirely unrelated either.



Of Puberty, Bigamy, and Fairy Godmothers (etc.)… Repost

This is a re-post of something I wrote and posted elsewhere in 2012. I’m sharing it here as I’ve removed my content from that other place. Also because it concerns two authors whose work I love – Judy Blume (I’ve written here before about Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret) and Tayari Jones (read my review of her book Silver Sparrow). In addition to being a brilliant writer, I’ve met Tayari on a couple of occasions

with Tayari

Here we both are at the 2015 Brooklyn Book Fair.

and she’s always been gracious to me – even to the point of reaching out after hurricanes blasted through the Caribbean region this season to make sure I was okay. So it is with enthusiasm that I let you know that she has a new book coming out in the new year: An American Marriage – put that one on your to-read list.


Here’s the re-post.


By Joanne C. Hillhouse

Judy Blume wrote of puberty in Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, a favourite of mine going way back. Tayari Jones’ blogging … and later a facebook ‘friendship’ had landed her acclaimed SilverSparrow, a tale from the perspectives of two daughters of a bigamist, on my to-read list. I just happened to be here this week for the NY launch of my book Oh Gad! … and in the midst of mixing promotion with playing tourist (hitting everywhere from Tribeca to Central Park, MOMA to the MET), I found my way to the Barnes and Noble where these two literary ladies would be dialoguing. Lucky me and the 150 or so others ‘eavesdropping’ on their enlightening engagement.

A few things that stuck with me…

“You have to be ready” – Tayari Jones

The story goes that Blume, a well established author essentially anointed an up and coming writer (Jones) by introducing her to the publisher who would eventually bring Silver Sparrow to market. It’s kind of a literary fairy tale really, a fact noted by Jones in proclaiming Blume her fairy god mother. Of course, this bit of grace would mean nothing if the chosen one had nothing to show or say for herself. Thankfully, Jones did, her readiness opened the door and out flew the Silver Sparrow.

Note to self: stay ready.

“Readers want to see what is the real secret, and what’s gonna happen once the secret’s found out” – Tayari Jones

An important reminder, to my mind, that plotting is driven as much by what is unknown as by what is known, and the tension comes, in part, of not showing your hand too early. Their curiosity sparked, the need to know is what keeps the reader up at night turning page after page. But it’s not one sided. The need to discover is in great part what keeps me up at night, as writer being led by these characters. Yeah, you read that right, being led; because I believe (as said by one of the facilitators at the Callaloo Writers workshop which I also participated in that summer at Brown University in Rhode Island) when it’s really on, your characters actually guide you.

Note to self: stay curious and open.

“If you can write about what it is to be trapped in an elevator, you can write about what it is to be trapped in a space ship” –Tayari Jones

I remember commenting to someone not too long ago that I’m not a method writer, yet as I once wrote in a poem I know that I routinely steal from life. Snatches of this and that that become something else by the time I’m done with them. I feel that Jones is saying something similar; writing what you know doesn’t have to mean boxing your narrative in, it can mean using what you know to explore other spaces. Of course, what Jones was really commenting on was the question all fiction writers get: How much of this is biographical? The answer: None of it and all of it.

Note to self: Use what you know, to discover and explore what you don’t know.

“You want to paddle them to safety and (but) you have to let them swim or not.” – Tayari Jones

Your characters do become like people you care about – even the ones that are difficult to like. But comes a time you have to let them go, sometimes without a happy ending. As writer, you don’t always know what their fate will be until it blindsides you. That’s not to say that you have nothing to do with the crafting of the tale, but that often you can’t strong arm the characters into going where they’re not meant to; and sometimes even you have to let them go, painful though it may be.

Note to self: Let your characters walk the path they are meant to.

“If it works, it works; I don’t mess with it” – Tayari Jones

Jones writes old school on vintage typewriters each with his or her own name and I can only imagine personality. Blume apparently has a writing shack. Jones (like me) reads a lot (all the time, even when writing) and that’s an ongoing part of the learning process (because, as I always say, reading is one of the best ways to learn about writing). Blume was unabashed about the fact that as far as writing schedules go, “everything’s a mess” with her including her emotions (“I love it and I scream and I’m frustrated”). Jones writes early in the morning when the phone isn’t likely to ring unless there’s an emergency and you can empty everything else out. I write foreday morning too only I’m more of the haven’t-been-to-bed-yet variety than the get-up-early variety. To wit, as I write this blog it’s somewhere between 3 and 5 a.m. and I haven’t been to bed yet. Understandably, I wake up late. It took me a while to not feel guilty about that and to blow off people’s judgment (“you just now getting up!?”) – after all they’re probably getting more sleep on average than I am.

Note to self: Do what works for you (there is no single way).

“I don’t know if I hate classification or I hate categories or if I hate the way people perceive the categories” – Tayari Jones

Exactly! I thought as Tayari said this even as my companion snorted at the explanation. But here’s the thing. I know exactly what she means. People slap a label on you (or your writing) that does not begin to describe the complexity of you/it, and then they deride it for the label they gave it – chick lit, erotica, Caribbean, urban, whatever. I am a Caribbean writer. My first two books, The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, were dubbed young adult when, as Blume explained of her own books, I never wrote them as that. That was the label slapped on them by the publisher for marketing, and really I didn’t have a problem with it, and don’t, except for when I’m expected to be a children’s writer when I’ve probably written maybe one children’s story* in my life and usually wind up doing Anancy stories or something from Wadadli Pen (the youth writing programme I run in Antigua) when asked to read to kids (not to be confused with teens for whom I’ll usually read from my own work). Now Oh Gad! is published by Strebor, a Simon and Schuster imprint owned by Zane, known primarily for erotica; and while being apart of her brand is expanding my readership, I’ve been compelled to explain a time or two that my book is not erotica – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

As I wrote in a recent blog, these categories are a marketing issue and not a writer’s concern. Like Judy said about how she came to write the types of books she does, “I just wanted to write what I knew to be true”.

Note to self: Keep telling your (characters’) truth, telling authentic stories, and defying the class-i-fications.

I love how disarming and down to earth Blume seemed, how witty and smart Jones seemed, and how genuine their connection seemed. It was a veritable lovefest with the woman who wrote books beloved by so many (Blume) saying to Jones of her book, “The story is moving and moving and moving and you do wonder what will happen next”, while Jones mentioned that Blume was one of her literary inspirations going back 30 years.

“That’s really good; I should write that down,” Blume quipped at some insight from Jones and, doing her one better, I did write it all down (hence this blog), even as I smiled at the off-hand comment. Another such moment came when Jones commented of spending the last 15 months on the road, “it’s been a wonderful gift to do it” and Blume, who’s likely been down that road a time or ten, tossed in, “it’s wonderful to do it… once.”

I ended up buying a copy of Silver Sparrow and getting online to talk with Jones. Because social networking can create a false sense of knowing, I was nervous about introducing myself to her even as I wanted to introduce myself to her if that makes any sense. I’m glad I did in the end and(though I want to assure her that I’ve never stalked anyone and I’m not about to start now) I’m hoping that our paths do cross again and that I maybe even get to share a stage with her some day. A girl can dream, right?

Meanwhile, I will be reading Silver Sparrow and continuing my own writing.

*Okay, so as fate would have it since asserting that I was branded a children’s author without having any actual children’s books, I’ve written an actual teen/young adult novel (Musical Youth) and a couple of children’s picture books (With Grace, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure). musical_youth_nov1-e1415925946338with-grace-coverCoverCheck those out too if you’re so inclined. Go here for all my books.

Love, 5 Books for the Child in Your Life

I am one of five authors recently invited to submit on the theme of love in the context of the writing of our children’s picture books.

There is US based Puerto Rican author Anika Denise, who in discussing the young diva in her book Starring Carmen!starring carmen, writes, “Carmen may be the star of the book, but it was in writing the character of Eduardo (Carmen’s brother) that I came to the heart of the story. It’s about the unconditional love that exists in families.”

There is US author Matt Taveres,who, in telling the story of baseball player Pedro Martinez in Growing Up Pedro, noted, “I realized that it was impossible to tell Pedro’s story without telling the story of his brother, Ramon. And maybe that is the message of love in Growing Up Pedro: all of our stories are intertwined, and it’s impossible to tell one person’s story without also telling the stories of their loved ones.”

There is Canada based Jamaican author Olive Senior who untangles black girls relationship with their hair in Boo-noo-noo-nous Hair, illustrated by US based artist of Antiguan descent Laura Jameshair-their second project together, I believe, after Anna Carries Water. For anyone who doesn’t understand our complicated journey to love, after the diseases of slavery and colonialism and the still pervasive messages that privilege other standards of beauty, as black people (the relationship with our hair being only one symptom of this), consider Senior’s statement that her book is about “a mother’s love for her child and her gracious way of healing the wounds of inferiority imposed by racial difference or images of ‘beauty’ that don’t reflect who we are.”

There is Puerto Rican Lulu Delacre’s whose book, one of many, is How Far do You Love Me? who through a game she played with her daughters explores the expansiveness of parental love, so expansive not even death could kill it. She writes, ” it wasn’t until my youngest daughter died, that I realized that I love her as much in death as I did in life. For me, this means that she still is.”

And then there is me, and as I write in my piece, I was really trying to write myself back in to a positive space after a negative encounter. “In the end, I believe writing this story helped me shoo some negative energy (creative expression is nothing if not cathartic) and reminded me of the power of love (and the pen) as a curative for (and a shield against) bad mind, bad energy, and bad soil.” My book is With Grace.with-grace

You can read all the authors’ musings in Anansesem (the Caribbean children’s ezine’s) special Love issue here.



Bocas Seeking Trini Teen Critics

I wanted to share this thing that just popped up in my mailbox – an invitation to secondary school students in Trinidad & Tobago.

“Submit a book review on one of the nine excellent books that have won CODE’s Burt Award for Caribbean Literature for the chance to win fabulous prizes, kick-start your writing career, and get published!”


In the top right hand corner, of course, is my book – Musical Youth – a Burt award title. They’re all Burt award titles. And the Burt award, you might remember, is the annual award for teen/young adult Caribbean fiction.

“The judges will select the best reviews of each book to publish on the Bocas Lit Fest website, and will also select one junior winner (aged 11 to 15) and one senior winner (aged 16 to 18). The junior and senior winners will receive the following prize package:

•online publication and promotion of your review by the Bocas Lit Fest, the region’s premier literary arts organization

•publication of your review in the Trinidad and Tobago Daily Express newspaper
•career development and hands on experience in arts criticism and review writing as part of our team of Bocas youth bloggers

•A $200 gift certificate from one of the participating booksellers of your choice – Paper Based Bookshop, Metropolitan Book Suppliers Ltd., Nigel R Khan Bookseller, RIK Book Services Ltd.

•a meeting with one of CODE’s Burt Award winning authors (in-person or online)

•VIP access to the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, T&T’s annual literary festival, including free entry to writing workshops, invitations to special events and back stage access to the writers (25 to 29 April 2018)”

So, if you know a teen in Trinidad and Tobago, pass this on. Here’s the link to the details.