CREATIVE SPACE #1 of 2022 (uploaded January 3rd 2022)
CREATIVE SPACE is an award-winning series spotlighting local (Antiguan and Barbudan/Caribbean) art and culture. As a brand, it dates back to 2009, published exclusively in LIAT’s inflight magazine. It was revamped in 2018 as a blog series and syndicated as of 2019 on Antiguanice.com. Its publishing partner, as of 2020, is the Daily Observer newspaper. It has its first print run in the paper every other Wednesday, with the online extended edition with EXTRAS running here on the blog and full interviews and extras on AntiguanWriter on YouTube. In 2021, the two–part CREATIVE SPACE mini-series on marine culture placed third in the OECS clean oceans journalists challenge. CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean author, journalist, producer, and freelance writer, editor, and trainer.
Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared in the Daily Observer newspaper on January 5th 2022:
Below is the extended online edition (not a duplicate of the edition with publishing partner Observer Media) with EXTRAS.
CREATIVE SPACE #1 OF 2022 – WHAT IT MEANS TO DANCE ON THE MOON
Floree Williams Whyte is an author and budding publisher from Antigua and Barbuda. Her latest book invites its young readers to Dance on the Moon.
Is there such a thing as boy books and girl books? That’s something that came up early in my discussion with Floree Williams Whyte, author of new children’s picture book Dance on the Moon. In recounting her experience at the artisan’s market in December 2021, shortly after the release of her fourth book, second children’s book, first picture book, she discovered that some parents certainly seem to think so.
See, on the cover of Dance on the Moon is a girl, Lula, doing just that, in a pink leotard and skirt and ballet slippers. “…when people would pass by, they would say, ‘I have boys’ and I would say ‘it’s not a girly story…it’s a gender neutral theme’ and they’re like ‘no, something with cars’…” Floree said. Interestingly, she noted, her previous book, The Wonderful World of Yohan, with a boy, the titular Yohan on the cover, sold easily to boys and girls.
While it’s certainly vital (and I have advocated for) for boys, girls, of all colours and stripes, especially underrepresented groups, to see themselves, it is hardly a prerequisite for enjoyment of a book. Weareteachers.com suggests steering children towards good books that feed their imagination, stoke their interest, expose them to different types of characters and by extension different types of people, characters that inspire them, and expand their world view.
And so we come to the concept of dancing on the moon.
As long as I’ve known Floree, I’ve known of her attachment to the expression, don’t be afraid to dance on the moon. That her imprint Moondancer Books and her latest book picks up on this is more than just brand consistency. It has been her north star.
Writing about it was inevitable. She was working on one of her other unfinished works when “something just nudged me one night randomly”. That something was her muse (presumably) who, knowing she wanted to try an illustrated book, suggested, “dance on the moon, you’ve never written about that, what does it mean?”
You’ll have to read the book to find out, of course, but, in general, it’s about pushing through your fears and following your heart.
And Floree may work marketing as her day job in addition to being a wife and mother, but it’s clear that writing holds a piece of her heart. So much so that, on receiving a rejection she didn’t like for Yohan, she not only opted to self-publish, she started Moondancer Books.
“The whole reason I started my own imprint was because of a feedback from a publisher who told me children’s books are always supposed to end happily…and I didn’t find that the Yohan stories were unhappy, he was mischievous. I remember your editing note when I had to go back and write an additional story was to maybe end it with a story that shows how his mischievous nature actually worked out for good, which I accepted. But I think it was the note that said, I think this book is good, I think kids will like it. It was that and reading that traditional publishers don’t accept short story compilations from unknown authors.”
Rather than continue to negotiate access with publishing gatekeepers, she set up an imprint with the goal of someday, once she got the hang of it, publishing other writers; and she kind of gets it now – the rejections are not personal. “Being an indie publisher, when I get to the point of being able to take on someone else…it’s a business decision…is the book going to sell in this market, is it going to make back what it will have spent to create it.” She will, she said, have to have a sense of what the market wants and look at it critically, and risk getting it wrong. “I could be wrong as well, the person could go find somebody else and do really well.”
Meanwhile, she is her own guinea pig. “There was a sense of, if I could get this process right, I could help somebody else out,” Floree said. “I’m learning as I go and using myself because I want to make the mistakes with myself and not somebody else who’s expecting me to know what I’m doing.”
Commissioning illustrations for Dance on the Moon was, she said, “eye-opening.”
Her decision to outsource Dance’s art came on advice from local children’s book author (the Calypso Princess series) Farida Isaac-Carr, who gave her tips on “maximizing the budget that you have and getting the illustrations that you need”. Working with a Bangladesh artist found online posed some challenges (hours spent finding reference images and going back and forth, trying to get everything from the colours of the Caribbean to the characters right). “It’s funny because when she gave back the sketch, I said to myself, I didn’t want it to be ballet…I wanted to have more of a Caribbean feel and then I was looking through pictures of African and folklore dancing …liturgical dancing and so forth, that particular pose seems to translate through all those types of dance, so I kind of left it.” She stuck with her previous editor (me) and her first – or beta – reader was her son. “He was attentive to it.”
And she continues to take feedback on board now that the book is in the marketplace. One she particularly appreciated related to this from our interview: “I think the most challenging part was trying to make sure the message was formulating in a way that a child could understand; it’s not a complicated message but…is a five year old going to understand what this concept means and how they could possibly use it.” Well, she’s received some re-assuring feedback via social media: “… as I turned the pages, the psychologist in me became engrossed by its focus on emotional intelligence. More specifically, it highlights core emotions that children often struggle with that is being anxious, shy and nervous while providing a very useful tool to manage them.” The reader promised to share Dance on the Moon with “colleagues who can utilize it for bibliotherapeutic recommendation when working with children.”
That has to be music to the ears of the writer who bet on herself, lived her philosophy and danced on the moon.
Watch interview highlights on the CREATIVE SPACE playlist on my AntiguanWriter YouTube channel.
re audience feedback.
“For me the feedback helps…(give me) an idea of what the market likes. …being an indie publisher, when I get to the point of being able to take on someone else, I would have an idea of what the market likes. …it’s a business decision…is the book going to sell in this market, is it going to make back what it will have spent to create it…so I do have to listen to the reviews and see what people are in to.”
re trusting your own voice.
“I definitely learned that lesson after my second book, because there’s parts in it that weren’t authentic, it was people getting in to my head…when I look back on it now, I don’t like those parts. …there’s maybe some parts I tried to maybe also tone down….After that I learned, I’m just going to do what I have to do and just be authentic to myself.”
“(I) started to work on something and it started to change in to something that I didn’t expect, I said I think I need more time with this because I need to delve in to it more….I really wanted to try an illustrated book…and something just nudged me one night randomly …dance on the moon, you’ve never written about that, what does it mean, and it just started to turn and I sat in a corner in the bedroom under some lowlight and I just wrote out the whole story. And I gave it couple days to breathe and then I went back over. …The things that I have that I’m going to work on, they’re still there.”
“Once you’ve written the first draft…it’s just good to walk away and …think about something else and you’ll be amazed what you see when you come back because you’ve just gotten a chance to…detach…and refresh.”
re writing children’s book (and misconceptions).
“I think people confuse short with easier…with a short story, you have less space to …complete something…especially with children’s books depending on the age group…you’re going to start to lose their attention.”
re working with an editor.
“You send the draft to the editor and you sit nervously for the next two weeks or how ever long …waiting for that email or that call…then you take the feedback, you kind of sit with it for a while, you think about it, then you try to work on another draft. Sometimes you agree, sometimes you won’t agree…it should be a conversation…it’s a dance back and forth that you have to be patient with, and, once again, give it some space, read the review, and give it some space before you go and work on the redraft.”
re what’s needed vis-a-vis support for lit arts in Antigua and Barbuda.
“I would like to see more opportunities… workshops…I would like to see more of those…there are persons who are just working the nerve up…they are out there and I want those opportunities for them…I just want more opportunities for people to hone their craft and to get feedback.”
Re Wadadli Pen.
Floree has been a Wadadli Pen judge since 2012, and a team member since 2016. She is part of the core team of the new non-profit – new because, though Wadadli Pen has been nurturing and showcasing the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda since 2004, it finally became a legal non-profit in 2021.
re full disclosure.
Floree has been a client of mine. I edited The Wonderful World of Yohan and Dance on the Moon. I particpated in the launch of her second book Through a Window. I have been a fan since her first book Pink Teacups and Blue Dresses.
If you would like to be featured in a future CREATIVE SPACE or to pay for a (web only) sponsored post (on jhohadli.wordpress.com exclusively), BOOSTing your BRAND while boosting Antigua-Barbuda Art and Culture, contact Joanne.
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