Throwback Q & A: Musical Youth

I got some promising news from the publisher of Musical Youth this past week. Can’t share it yet, but I can share this previously unpublished interview that I did shortly after the book’s launch.

Musical Youth

What inspired you to tell this story?

I’m a music lover. It was probably inevitable that I’d someday write a book inspired and driven by my love of music.

How did you begin? Did you research or do other prep work, or jump right in?

Jumped right in. Pretty sure I should have been asleep when these teens showed up one ‘foreday morning intent on telling me of their musical dreams, friendships, romantic entanglements, fears, families, discoveries, adventures, and the excitement of embarking on a summer production that would ultimately change their lives. They were persistent, and it was a matter of trying to keep up with them on what turned out to be kind of an epic but compacted writing binge.

What is your writing process like? What do you do when you feel stuck or stumped?

Well, I’m feeling stuck and stumped right now. Stuck because of time. Stumped because when I do make the time the snippets I’ve written aren’t quite fitting together into a narrative that makes sense. And that provides some hint of my process. I write to discover, so in that first draft I’m rushing forward or inching forward, but it’s forward, not all over the place like I am right now. Usually it starts with the character and different moments, feelings, impressions, ideas weave their way in; but I picture it as a character kind of taking me by the hand and pulling me into her/his story. Once I have a first full draft down, I tinker. With longer works, novels, because I also write stories and poems, it takes months, years to get that first draft down, so the tinkering happens as I dip back into the world of the story but then hopefully I keep moving forward until I figure out what the story is about. The redrafting and editing allows me to fine tune, rip out what doesn’t fit, shade in what needs colouring, texturing. If the story I’m working on isn’t happening, I’ll work on something else, just step away from it for a while. I write best at night, I don’t write best in absolute quiet – so music is a good companion, but I grew up having to write with life happening around me, so silence is actually quite distracting. I try to schedule writing time every day, and I try to do something writing related during that writing time even if the story I need to be working on isn’t happening.  The scheduling is more a reminder to myself to prioritize my writing even if the writing itself sees fit to rebel against being wrestled into a schedule; it comes best when I’m just walking or taking the bus or driving or feeling life – times when my brain is kind of just idling. I always have something to write with because of this. And I always have a book on go, because I also find reading not only entertaining but inspiring. Having goals is a motivator for me as well, if there’s somewhere I want to submit or just a workshop activity – oh working with other writers, as I do as a workshop facilitator and writing coach, is actually quite stimulating as well. But there’s no single thing I do to get myself out of the rut… whatever works.

What’s the most surprising or unexpected thing you learned about the creative process while writing your book?

Sometime after I wrote and published Musical Youth, I discovered an unfinished story called the Guitar Lessons, and I could see the link between my personal story and Guitar Lessons and Guitar Lessons and Musical Youth. It reminded me of this poem called Stealing Life that I’d written years earlier, about how we, writers, kind of snatch and store bits and pieces of things, pulling them out without realizing it like a seamstress digging through his or her basket of scraps while sewing a patchwork quilt. It wasn’t a discovery so much as  reminder but I did blog about it here  It’s a reminder as well that sometimes you have to push but sometimes the story will emerge when it’s ready.

I’m most surprised though that I was able to write a full first draft in roughly two weeks. Not recommended by the way, but maybe the fact that the scraps were already scattered inside me waiting to be sewn together is what made it doable. The story was ready to be told and the characters thankfully were a joy to be with so the telling though …feverish… and tightly focused was fun.

What was the hardest part, and what was your favorite part?

Plotting is always a struggle for me. There has to be an internal coherence to the story, a logic to the flow of the narrative.  Character, voice, pacing, tone, these things came fairly easily – the chemistry between the characters, Shaka and Zahara as young love blossomed, Shaka and his crew, their camaraderie, the melding of kids from different backgrounds as they take on a challenge, a number of challenges, was actually fun. But this particular story had some underlying themes and some reveals that required careful handling in the case of the plot, making sure the backstory is consistent with what’s now being revealed etc. Thank God for editing and at the same time editing was my personal hell – so much to do in a very tight window because the original draft had been so rough and the publishing deadline was so tight, the book having been fast tracked after the manuscript placed second for the Burt Award for Young Adult Caribbean literature. In the end, I’m happy with how it turned out – but between addressing structural issues and fighting for what I felt was essential and picking my way through the things that needed clipping and additional writing for texturing and to better connect certain dots – it was stressful.

If you could meet three authors (living or not), who would you choose and why? OR What author do you read for inspiration? OR Who are three authors who inspire you?

Well, if I could have a lime without the social pressure of being chatty and interesting myself, I’d gladly sit over drinks and nibbles with Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Dandicat and Zora Neale Hurston soaking up their stories, and wisdom. I’ve actually met and had drinks with Jamaica, Edwidge is my literary crush – I love everything she writes especially Farming of Bones and Create Dangerously, and I’m fascinated by Zora’s adventures, in love with her spirit and talent, saddened by the arc of her life, and encouraged by the post-note to it, to which a lot of credit I think has to go to Alice Walker, another woman I would like at that lime. (lime: Antiguan for social gathering/hanging out).

What’s the best writing advice you have been given?

I honestly can’t think of one solo piece of advice off the top of my head; but you know which writing book I’ll be recommending forever and ever I think, Stephen King’s On Writing. Lots of good advice in that one. And for the mechanics, I always return to Janet Burraway’s Writing Fiction.

Please ask and answer one question you wish I’d asked.

Stumped again…  I suppose, since this is an American blog and I am a Caribbean writer, I could ask something like why would a reader from America be interested in books by a writer from Antigua. My answer, it’s an imaginative road trip to a different culture, and the realization at the end of it that wherever they rest their heads at night, people are, after all, just people. My characters for all their differences from your reality are still people – and I’ve found as a reader and writer that even within the differences it’s often possible to find something relatable. The best writing, in my view, doesn’t pander to that idea but lets its characters live and breathe, and the open reader can really have an enriching experience stepping into that other-world as it is and just breathing it in. If you’re anything like me, you’ll like the adventure of exploring a different world for a while, all without leaving home; though travel is fun too.

By the way, you can find out more about me and my books here https://jhohadli.wordpress.com

Advertisements

With Grace: the Interview

i-got-mine

I got mine!: A lighter moment from the With Grace launch, held December 21st 2016 at the Best of Books.

My publisher just posted an interview they did with me about the book (i.e. new picture book and fairytale, With Grace).Thought I’d share some highlights.

Like what I had to say about what inspired the book…

“While the circumstances in the story are fictional, With Grace came out of my desire to purge those feelings. I’m really happy that a character so full of grace emerged, like sunshine chasing out the negativity.”

And why a fairytale…

“I enjoy experimentation, and something about taking this negative and working through it in a genre where typically good and bad are clear, and they all lived happily ever after, appealed.”

How I feel about the illustrator’s art work…

“I love how Cherise (Harris) re-imagined the world of the story – I especially love how she captured the main characters and how colourfully she rendered the world.”

To sequel or not to sequel…

“I have a bad habit of being done with stories when I’m done with them.”

One takeaway…

“You can turn a negative in to a positive, in life and on the page.”

A Wadadli Pen plug (come on, you knew it was coming!)…

“And it’s an example, though not planned as such, of one of the core principles of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize (the program I run to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda, which in its annual writing Challenge insists that entries have a Caribbean aesthetic) that our culture can feed our creative imagination – that stories, even fairytales, don’t just come from out there, but within our world, within us.”

How feedback from the group of teens and pre-teens participating in my Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project 2013 helped make the story better…

“I snuck it in among the other pieces I was having them critique that summer without telling them who the author was…and then I took notes.”

Read the full interview on the publisher’s website.

With Grace Launches This Week In Antigua

The headline says it all. With Grace launches (in Antigua at least, for now; but soon to be available in the wider Caribbean and internationally) on Wednesday 21st December 2016, 6 p.m., at the Best of Books on St. Mary’s Street, Antigua.

It took some doing to get them here before Christmas, but Little Bell Caribbean, publisher of With Grace, pushed to do just that.

The Best of Books bookstore has hosted each of my launches through the years beginning with The Boy from Willow Bend (back when the launch amounted to a signing table set up at the book shop entrance at its then location in the Benjies/British American mall) atboyfromwillowbendlaunchto the Dancing Nude launch (moved indoors for this one) a year later dancingnudebooksigning5, to eight years later and the launch of Oh Gad! my attempt to mix things up with a midnight launch at the Best of Books Friars Hill Road branchlaunch-photo-eustace-samuel; my next book – the picture book Fish Outta Water didn’t get a launch (but more news to come on that soon; listen out); reading-me-2then there was Musical Youth launched on a rainy  evening at the St. Mary’s Street location where I’ll return this Wednesday 21st December for the launch of my sixth book, second children’s picture book, and first fairytale.

To say this journey has been surreal would be an understatement. To say each of these launch activities has been a blur would be #facts With Willow Bend, I didn’t know what to expect, didn’t know if anyone would come, and pretty much stood there and smiled and tried to be charming when people (mostly friends) came through. With Dancing, I was nervous because I had to read and because there were, amidst a pretty strong showing from my family and friends, people who were there just because they were readers looking for a good book (yikes). With Oh Gad! I was anxious because best laid plans and all that but there was wine and cake and, though Antiguans proved they’re not in to this midnight launch business, some who turned out like the late Marcus Christopher (a calypso writer whose music I would have grown up listening to) were a nice surprise and guess which picture made the paper observer-launch-coverage– nicer still, the personal call he made when he’d finished reading to tell me what he thought of the book. I remember feeling heady at the Musical Youth launch – there was so much going on then and I was so excited and all the usual nerves but also somewhat disconnected.

For a writer, a launch is and is and is not purely a celebration of an accomplishment; it’s also about sales and promotion – performing, and the success is not just the book you hold in your hand but did the media come out, will you get some good buzz from the event, how will the book perform. Six books in, still not on any one’s bestseller list but heartfully thankful for reader response to and support of my books to date, I want to try just enjoying this one.

Tall order – right now I’m in promotion mode, trying to make sure people know about the book and the launch (purpose of this post)- but on that night, I’m aiming to be so present, so joyful, so in my skin that none of it feels like performance, that all of it feels real.

If I never get a chance to write another book, I want to enjoy not just the launch of With Grace but that I’ve been fortunate to be a writer, to write these books; and the launch of a book about Grace seems a good time to bask in the gratitude I feel to live doing what I do, even on the roughest days of this journeying in the Writing Life. Give thanks for all the readers, for every publisher that made an investment in me, for the friendships and familial bonds that have strengthened and challenged me, for the ones who are always there for me, for all of the booksellers who have stocked my books and Best of Books for hosting me through six launches, for the ones who encourage and appreciate the effort, for God who blessed me with this talent, for every teacher who has helped me build the skill needed to become better and better and more confident in honing that talent. Whatever happens, I can’t say I didn’t get a chance to, didn’t claim my dream to be a writer. Am I tired right now? Yes…but I’m a tired writer. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be (definitely with a different adjective in front of writer).

With Grace is a fairytale and something about writing one of those has brought out my inner child, hopeful that it will fire the imagination of young readers as the fairytales I was exposed to as a child fired my imagination.

So, Wednesday, at 6…look forward to adding new pictures to the book launch collection, but, more than that, hope to relax and feel every moment joyfully in my bones. Hope you will come out if you can.

Media and bloggers, you can make use of the links below from the promotional package I’ve put together about the book, my other books, and me. I appreciate any and all courtesies, you have extended in the past and will again in future as I try to ripple the water; I don’t expect any of it as a right nor do I take any of it for granted.

about-the-book
about-joanne-c-hillhouses-other-books
about-joanne-c-hillhouse
with_grace
with_grace-a-peek-inside

author-photo-2011-by-emile-hill

 

 

We could use a little Grace (New Book!)

with-grace-cover

Isn’t she pretty? She’s got a big heart too.

I am thrilled to debut my first faerie tale. Fairytales being among my and virtually every child’s introduction to literature, I am thrilled that this could be the first book many children will read. Yes, I said many; I’m speaking it in to existence. Give thanks for God, the support and encouragement of family and friends, the negative encounter that turned in to a positive story, my niece and every request when she was younger to “read it again, Auntie Joanne” (usually Rapunzel), the Cushion Club kids who while I volunteered my time reading to them helped me rediscover the unabashed delight to be found in the simple and not so simple stories of childhood, the young people in my first Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project summer camp who provided invaluable feedback when this story was still very rough, Mario Picayo for seeing right away what I was trying to do, the Desi Writers Lounge which gave this story an honourable mention in its international competition, and every Anansi story, jumbie story, and folk-parable handed down to me growing up, reminding me that though we were inundated with literature from outside, our Caribbean reality can feed our imagination too, even in the realm of magic and faeries.

#WithGrace = decency, good heartedness, courteousness = what the world needs more of.

Help me get #WithGrace in to the hand of every reader, young and young at heart, by sharing this post, buying the book, reviewing it online, and telling your circle about it. As I always say, let’s ripple the water. We need more diverse books in our world. Right? Right.

I’m adding you to that thank you list above in advance.

Launch details coming soon, but I think it’s safe to say you can put this one on your Christmas shopping list.

With Grace – Reviews

Other books by Joanne C. HIllhouse

 

 

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.

Reflections, On Publishing and Persevering

Was doing some house cleaning over on my fiction page just now and found myself musing on the publishing credits that were the biggest gets for me at the time that I got them and why.

Like, there’s BIM in which I published What’s in a Name in 2015. BIMThis was a story inspired initially by a boy I observed while my brain idled pre-church at the christening of my last godchild. It really became, I think, a story about the way young people in a society both conscious of class and sometimes presumptive and precise in its assumptions can be pigeon-holed by the things they can’t control and how they can emerge into who they are in spite of …because I see good things in Big Head’s future. It’s also meant to be my humorous take on the labels people –and especially boys – in our society carry from the playground right in to adulthood. I heard someone answer to “Crablouse” once and that stuck with me…once I stopped laughing. Big Head is a reflection of that rough grinding that is a rite of passage coming of age in the Caribbean, how it can make or break, but doesn’t have to define you. That it was published by BIM was a gleeful moment for me in spite of BIM being a non-paying market because it felt like a measure of acceptance in to the Caribbean canon – more than a decade after the publication of my first book. I’d been rejected by BIM several times, nothing new there, though being rejected by a publication you subscribed to, a publication that hosted a panel you were once a part of

BIM 2008

Panelists at the BIM Symposium (2008) Celebrating Caribbean Women Writers.

– admittedly after inquiring how you could become a part of said panel, not as a result of them being blown away by your writing – was a particularly sharp brand of humbling. Something Big Head could no doubt relate to after the way his first crush do him. BIM was, for Caribbean writers, more than a first crush, as the literary elder that had discovered some of the region’s brightest literary lights including none less than Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. BIM is such a big deal that the house of founder/editor the late Frank Collymore was an essential stop of the bus tour held during the BIM lit fest which I was invited to in 2016.

Bernice McFadden

With American author Bernice McFadden and Jamaican author A-dZiko Gegele at the BIM lit fest and book fair…not at Frank Collymore house though…that’s the Barbados PM’s official residence Ilaro Court.

So, yeah, it felt special to finally see myself on its pages, after I’d had to practice some self-care by withdrawing from submitting and being rejected for a little while to catch my breath. I never stopped reading though; it is a damn good publication.

I’m also always a little bit extra thrilled when something completely out of my wheelhouse gets picked. With Grace getting honourable mention in the Desi Lounge contest and, in part because of that, attracting the attention of a publisher and now en route to publication as a children’s picture book is an example of this – I had never written a fairytale (or as I call it a faerie’s tale) before. I had also never attempted noir before deciding to submit one, the Cat has Claws, to Akashic’s Monday’s are Murder series. I remember I was on a bus and that this story was inspired by the heat, and that beyond that I wanted to craft a story that acknowledged the tropes of noir – the sense of mystery, the murder, the cynicism, the femme fatale etc. – without necessarily being bound by them and which was, at the same time, distinctively Caribbean and specifically Antiguan. I used a house I remembered, a face I knew, a personality type that was as familiar to me as the streets of Ottos, and I used the heat that was killing me that day. Having that accepted felt like I’d experimented,  stretched my wings, and pulled it off. Plus, I could now claim a publishing credit with one of the best indie presses in the business.

Of course, every short story, or story, is a bit of experiment for me – grappling with not only story (i.e. what is this about) but form (i.e. technique): the way I attempted fiction as a narrative poem with At Sea, or played around with point of view and unreliable narrators and structure in Amelia and Teacher May, or did the timeline dance while digging in to uncomfortable territory in Genevieve. If the world is my MFA programme then every acceptance is a “well done, Joanne”, and every non-acceptance a “do better”.

For that reason, I’ll end with mention of my first two off island fiction publishing credits. See, I write from and of Antigua, and getting my work out there was/is no easy task. One of my early targets, since about 1998 was The Caribbean Writer. As with BIM, it felt significant getting in to this one, which, while it didn’t have the long literary pedigree of BIM, was an established, peer-reviewed, international, literary journal, and, at the time the only one my research had turned up. I didn’t make the cut until 2004, with both a poem (Ah Write!) and the story Rhythms. Rhythms came to me one night during a pan bomb competition on the streets of St. John’s City – the bomb competitions were contests held during a panorama lull when pan was on the tail end of a downswing or the very early days of an upswing thanks to the pan yards opening schools of pan programmes to train and excite the next generation. I remember watching a boy play and how he gave his whole body over to it while the older dudes just kind of played in a serviceable, decidedly less animated way. Something about that contrast appealed to me…and then as well the dynamics and tensions within a family. I was happy that I was able to convincingly write the world of pan.

But my very first outside credit was in the Jamaica Observer lit arts section. That same year, 2004, which coupled with the publication of my first two books The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, left me feeling like I was getting some traction, that hell yeah (!) I was a writer. And that was a paying market (though not big money). It was about love and loss in a hurricane, and it was inspired by so many things from hurricanes I’d been through to a story one interview subject (wearing my journalism hat) had told me about his experience of the 1974 earthquake, which was significant in Antigua (though I don’t remember it, I would have been barely a year then, I grew up hearing about it). Anyway, that publishing credit was both bitter and sweet: this writing life lifts you up only to knock you down and test your mettle and commitment to the journey. The editor, now deceased, and considered quite venerable in Caribbean literary circles, had expressed interest in both the Martin, Dorie, and Luis story and a poem, but when, after sometime, I asked if they still had plans to publish the poem, he snapped back “your poetry is not up to the standard of your fiction”. I mean, that’s probably true, fiction is my first love (it’s what I’ve read the most, studied, worked hardest at, truly enjoy and feel passionate about) but I continue to work to make both better, and I learned that I was well and truly all in as a writer because not even the harshest rejection has deterred me from submitting and submitting again (including poetry). Knock on wood, through many more rejections, through books going out of print, through some people in the industry being sometimes shady, and other disappointments, that’s still true.

So, check out my non-book fiction here and share…which of your publishing credits, if you’re a writer, mean what to you and why?

Puerto Rico’s First Gold

Mónica Puig has defeated Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 to win the Gold Medal in the women’s single tennis competition at the Rio Olympics. An emotional Puig wept through the singing of Puerto Rico’s national anthem, “La Borinqueña,” played for the first time at the Olympics Games since Puerto Rico began participating in […]

via Puerto Rico’s Mónica Puig Wins Olympic Gold Medal in Tennis — Repeating Islands