Influences- How the Cowboy Was Born

If you appreciated my journey to publication post on The Other Daughter and my Zombie Island breakdown, and other posts of that type, you might like this one as well. It’s how the sausage gets made. It’s from one of the blogs I follow. Dope story.

About that Writing thing.

First open this here in a new tab. My latest fiction published at Rigorous.

This is gonna be a long ass writing/craft lesson so get some coffee.

Let’s start with the opening paragraph which incidentally is pretty much the one thing that didn’t change through several iterations of this story:

The Cowboy walked into the juke joint at the outside edge of a half-dead town in the deep in the drylands expecting nothing more than a watery beer and perhaps someone to warm his bed that night. The barroom was clean and smelled of the bunches of flowers on most available surfaces. He paused to look down at a bunch of light purple flowers that exuded a scent like nothing he’d ever experienced.

To start out with, I wanted to create an origin myth. If you’ve read me for a while you know that’s kinda my jam. I love creating…

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Three Firsts

The meme I’m trying this week is Bibliophile by the Sea’s First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros meme. Mostly because it’s Tuesday and why not?fistchapSo here goes. I’ll share three.

1. The book from my ‘reading’ pile that I’m most actively reading: Edward P. Jones’ The Known World. edwardpjones_theknownworldNot the whole first chapter or first paragraph though because I don’t have that kind of typing time…just enough to give you a taste:

“The evening his master died he worked again well after he ended the day for the other adults, his own wife among them, and sent them back with hunger and tiredness to their cabins. The young ones, his son among them, had been sent out of the fields an hour or so before the adults to prepare the late supper and, if there was time enough, to play in the few minutes of sun that were left. When he, Moses, finally freed  himself of the ancient and brittle harness that connected him to the oldest mule his master owned, all that was left of the sun was a five-inch long memory of orange laid out in still waves across the horizon between the two mountains on the left and one on the right. He had been in the fields all of fifteen hours. He paused before leaving the fields as the evening quiet wrapped itself around him.”

2. My most recently published short fiction – The Other Daughter over on Adda:

“My daddy is Prime Minister. I was born in the back room of a whore house on Popeshead Street. I lived there with my mother.”

3. My most recently published book – children’s picture book and fairytale With Gracewith_grace:

“It is a dry land, sun-blessed. But plants need rain to grow. No rain deity has split the clouds and allowed rain on this land in far too long. It is as if their magic has left this place. In such a place, rich, fertile soil is as valuable as gold and as elusive as faerie-magic.”

You can read a little more of With Grace here, where you’ll also find link to the first pages of all my books.

First time here? Here’s my bio – but, long story short, I do this writing thing because I love it…and not just ’cause no one will pay me to read.

 

 

 

 

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.