This is a books post

… specifically a my books post (yes, one of those shameful/shameless plug alerts you’ve heard about); read on or not at your own discretion…but how’s this, I’ll drop at least one new tidbit/bit of inside knowledge about the writing or publishing of each book (and as I type this even I don’t know what I’m going to say). We’re on a slippery gangplank, guys; we’re in this together. Let’s do this.

Children’s picture books
Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure + its Spanish language edition ¡Perdida! Una Aventura en el mar Caribe (publisher Caribbean Reads Publishing, Caribbean/USA)

Tidbit: So you may know that the book is an anthropomorphic tale of an Arctic seal stranded in the Caribbean sea, and was inspired by actual events. Well, as a Caribbean girl I didn’t know a lot about seals (outside of Happy Feet, which I loved), so I researched and found, among other things, that seals are semi-aquatic creatures classified as pinnipeds (meaning, they have fin feet or literally winged feet). So, in the original draft of this story, I called baby seals mini-pinnies, which I think you’ll agree was too cute by far even for a children’s book.

Best of Books

With Grace (publisher Little Bell Caribbean, Caribbean/USA)

Tidbit: With Grace is the first book I published without pursuing publication – is that the definition of making it? (Ha! I wish) I wasn’t even considering making it in to a book. I had mentioned it on my blog after it won honourable mention as a short story and Mario, an independent writer/publisher I knew reached out with “Joanne, I would love to read With Grace. May I?” and then after reading it responded with “Could not wait. Just finished. Loved it.” This was in the wee hours of the night, and I may have cried a little but I was so joyful especially with his detailed explanation of why he loved it: “Traditional elements of the fairy tale and 100% Caribbean. I say it as the highest praise. The have and have nots, the illegitimate child, mango as central to us as apples to Europe, how treating a tree (a person, an animal) can make it thrive or wilt, the obeah, the song, generosity rewarded, selfishness punished, sisters: two sides of a coin, isolation and privilege corrupting the soul… and a fairie. Again, loved it.  I think you got a winner.
Let’s talk about the possibility of publishing…Thanks for such a beautiful, well thought, and meaningful story.” The path to publication has never been so emotional – in a positive way – for me.

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In the case of both Lost! and Grace, I became a children’s author five books in without planning to (though I had been branded as such for many years due to the publishing marketplace’s broad strokes and my first book being The Boy from Willow Bend).

Teen/Young Adult books
The Boy from Willow Bend (publisher Hansib, UK)

Tidbit: The original title for this book was Swamp Boy…due to the lily pond that was one of main character Vere’s meditation spaces. I think you’ll agree with me that it was too generic and set up the wrong expectation (horror, maybe?).

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Musical Youth (publisher Caribbean Reads Publishing, Caribbean/USA)

Tidbit: This is the first and only book I wrote consciously thinking about genre (notwithstanding that The Boy from Willow Bend, due to the age of the character, falls into this sub-genre, it was written without consciousness of genre just as the story of a boy) as I wrote it in a two week burst of writing in direct response to the call for submissions to the Burt award for teen/young adult Caribbean fiction; and I remember the editing experience as being particularly frustrating and challenging with a tight, though perhaps not the tightest, turnaround. Sometimes I wish I had more time with it, sometimes I think the tightness and intensity of both the writing and editing of it (and the fact that I wrestled with it) made it the book it is, and, though I’ll always think I can make it better I can make it better about everything I write probably, I can’t knock that.

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Adult contemporary fiction
Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings (publisher Insomniac, Canada)

Tidbit: A convent school student in Dominica posted an online review of the original edition of Dancing which I discovered years later. She wrote, “Dancing Nude in the Moonlight is a story of love between cultures. It goes in depth into the hardships and tensions of immigrant life in Antigua, where people from the Dominican Republic are greeted with much suspicion and hostility. Yet, though the languages and ambitions of the Antiguans and Dominicana differ, the culture and religion of these countries have much in common. The writer of this novel, Joanne C. Hillhouse, clearly wrote this novel for readers of romance. Not only that, but she seeks to evoke the themes of racism and love in this novel. …  When the Antiguan Michael meets Selena it is love at first sight for him, but Selena has been too deeply hurt by misplaced love in the past and Michael must take his time to ‘woo’ her with much understanding.” It was a surprise and a bit of irony to discover that a Catholic school in Dominica had been reading or teaching the book considering that one teacher’s attempt to teach it in Antigua met with backlash (but then I was also ‘called to the principal’s office for Willow Bend’ so maybe not so surprising).

Dancing cover 2

Oh Gad! (publisher Simon & Schuster, USA)

Tidbit: This one is currently out of print; and I haven’t quite figured out if/when/how it has a future yet but I’m mentioning it because it is one of my books (actually my third published book, my first book represented by an agent, and the first book for which I earned both an advance and royalties of any significance), so it did open doors and have its success; including positive critical attention in Caribbean Vistas, The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books, The American Scholar, Literary Hub, NPR, and other places, and because of it I even landed on a course list at Hunter College in the US. I will always be grateful for the doors it opened and the love it received from the readers. But it is an example of the uncertain fortunes of the publishing world. And, as I have reclaimed rights and had books return to print three times now, I know its future is still unwritten.

New Stories

The Night the World Ended in The Caribbean Writer Volume 32
Evening Ritual in The New Daughters of Africa

Tidbit: I had to re-read The Night the World Ended on receiving notice of its acceptance to remember writing it much less submitting it (even though I do track my submissions); it was written post hurricane Irma and I was in a bit of a fugue when I wrote it…but it all came back to me as I read it in an exhilarating reminder of how therapeutic writing can be. Evening Ritual, meanwhile, started one night in the Museum – I saw a picture that inspired a story that linked women working in the sugar plantation economy with women working in the tourism resort economy, but, as written, it felt forced and disjointed as was pointed out to me by one response from a journal to which I submitted it…I ended up separating the parts (which was perhaps the easy way out) and the part set in modern times became this story that, with some editing from one of my mentors, the person who suggested me to the Daughters editor in the first place, was selected from the three stories I submitted for consideration. It wasn’t even the one I was rooting for and it still feels like a part of a greater whole, but I’m delighted that as an independent, self-contained work it found a place in this global collection.

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So I’m sharing my books because, obviously, I am about helping them to find new readers; and I’m sharing the tidbits to give a little insight to this bumpy journey that is The Writing Life. Ask me anything…I can’t promise to answer but, if I do, I promise to be truthful.

Finally, I want to thank book reviewers, book media, book bloggers, book buyers, book stores, and especially book readers; you have literally thousands of books to choose so, as a Caribbean author, writing to the world, I thank you for considering me as you continue to expand the diverse offerings on your shelves.

Author Kit Single Doc

Joanne C Hillhouse Books

 

 

 

 

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Talking Movies: The Hate U Give

I mostly talk books and writing on this site, but if you’ve followed the site, you know that I’m just a lover of the arts, period, and have opinions on things (not just art). I’ve talked movies here before – Roxanne Roxanne and Annihilation, Room and other movies, Suffragette, Queen of Katwe, Bazodee, Creed, Birdman and Foxcatcher, Spotlight, and others. So, let’s talk, The Hate U Give – for my review of the book, click this link; now on to my review of the film.

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The Hate U Give continues the grand tradition of the book – however imperfect – being better than the movie. Yes, there are exceptions but the generalization exists for a reason. It’s inevitable perhaps that something of the nuance of a story stands to be lost in the translation from page to film.

In the Hate U Give, for instance, it made me sad to see Seven, brother of main character and narrator Starr, relegated to little more than scenery even with his story being amalgamated into that of another boy who was erased altogether. In the book, Starr and Seven’s relationship and Seven’s own arc added richness and complexity to the tale. He was as caught between two worlds as she was, three if you think about it – because he went to the same private school she did so moved between black and white spaces, but also within the black spaces he occupied he had his own tug-o-war between his father’s family (the father he shared with Starr) and the distinctly different world of his mother. That scene in the book where his mother shows up at his birthday party was for me one of the book’s emotional high/low points – the closest we get is a dimmed version of his mother and her violent drug kingpin boyfriend showing up at the funeral of Khalil, the boy whose death by police is the story’s inciting incident. In losing so much of Seven, we lose certain dynamics of Starr’s tale – her insider-outsiderness in her own/home world, and the ways she struggles to define family. The tension between her and her brother’s other sister and her friend over their ‘ownership’ of him, not literally but as family, is not an insignificant plot point. However, it is completely gone from the film and in addition to Seven being background, the sister is reduced to a cliché. A huge part of the story’s heart and texture (re the interpersonal relationships) is, therefore, lost to the streamlining of Starr’s story along black and white lines.

As filmed, the only real struggle in Starr’s life is between her pure white private school world and the friendships and romances therein, and the all black world she lives in (the richness of which we don’t really see in the film as we do in the book). The layers have been ironed out for ease of visual storytelling. Speaking of visual storytelling, it’s hard to miss the hopefully unconscious colourism in the casting. Not blaming the cast for this. I’m actually rooting for Amandla Stenberg – have been since Hunger Games – and feel this is the best performance I’ve seen from her to date. But it doesn’t slip notice that the character on the cover of the book is dark-skinned and Amandla is decidedly not, and that the darker skinned Black people in the film are tied to the ghetto life (Seven as a possible exception, though, as noted, he’s in both worlds). It’s a thing white audiences may not notice but which I’ve seen some around the black interwebs comment on.

Speaking of whose gaze, the film is very mindful of courting a crossover audience, while the book was uncompromisingly written from the Black perspective – in an honest way, that cued any person with an open mind and heart to respond to it. So that, for instance, the shooting of Starr’s friend Khalil on the screen is ambiguous in a way it is not in the book – in the book, it’s clear that cop bias – implicit if not explicit – was involved; in the movie, the cop is given a sympathetic out. As a result the commentary on the overzealous cop protected by systemic and latent racism is diluted. We also see this dilution in her relationship with her private school friends, one of whom was a clear mean girl with deliberately tone deaf and racist tendencies in the book; and in the movie is just kind of clueless. The movie bends over backwards to make the antagonists not so bad – some might call it nuance, some might call it white washing.

In trying to serve all masters, pleasing none, some of The Hate U Give’s gravitas – such as it had – is lost, and other moments, the riot scene didn’t have any real sense of danger (to me, I’ve seen that there is disagreement on this point), not like in the book. Though that moment after the fire (the fire King went down for though he didn’t technically set it) did have me worried for Starr’s little brother, so it’s not like I wasn’t emotionally engaged.

One of the characters who was problematic for me in the book is even more so in the movie, a fault of both writing and casting. Disclaimer: I love love love Issa Rae. Loved Awkward Black Girl, respect what she’s doing with Insecure, but the lawyer/activist she plays already read like a stock character, and she doesn’t personalize her in any way. I’m seeing Issa, not the character – but as noted it was a thinly written character to begin with (and, full disclosure, I’m hesitant to dog Issa in any way).

All of that said, the film is not the worst thing ever – a recent google turned up 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and 82 on Metacritic (so clearly I and some of the earlier criticism I saw are the minority view). For me, it’s just okay…which already makes it, as a teen/young adult genre film, miles ahead of Twilight.

-by Joanne C. Hillhouse. If you haven’t checked any of my books as yet, I hope you do. If you have read my books, please consider posting a review to Amazon or Goodreads if you haven’t already done so. Thanks! Also, as needed, be sure to check out my writing and editing services.

Lost! Interview

signingI’ve added my interview with the Feathered Quill to my Media Page. Here’s an Excerpt:

FQ: As I mentioned in my review, I love the illustrations for your book – they’re so bright and lively. Would you tell our readers a little about the process of working with your illustrator? Did you go over details of each illustration before she set to work, or did you discuss the overall feeling of the book and let her get creative? What was the process?

HILLHOUSE: Aren’t they beautiful? Thanks for the positive review, by the way; I’m happy and relieved to read it. Believe it or not, Danielle (Boodoo-Fortune) who is located in Trinidad in the southern Caribbean while I am in Antigua in the eastern Caribbean, literally several plane hops away, worked primarily from the story…and from one or two reference images I provided to the publisher from my research, for example, a picture of Wadadli. I recommended her to the publisher, because I not only knew and loved her work but thought her aesthetic would be a good fit for the world of Lost! She was contracted by Caribbean Reads and given her instructions by them. My involvement beyond that was limited to offering feedback when invited to do so, which I have to say was fairly often as this or that character was drawn or this or that scene realized, by the publisher. So Danielle and I had no direct interaction during the creative process and it was only on launch day, during a live chat, now archived here https://wadadlipen.wordpress.com, that we got to talk some about our creative processes. Quoting from Danielle, during that chat, re how she approached the project: “Dolphin’s daydreaminess really helps define him, I think. It was the first thing that struck me when I started doing concept sketches of each of the characters. It set him apart from his friends…aside from his nose of course. In the illustrations, I wanted his eyes to always be wide and filled with wonder…I wanted to get a feel for all the characters’ personalities, especially Dolphin. I wanted to bring out those qualities of curiousity and playfulness that make him so endearing in the book. It was a joy to illustrate because the underwater setting made it the perfect fit for watercolours, my medium of choice.”

Read the full interview here.

See interviews and more on my Media page.

See the Lost! review page.

See Lost! first page.

See Lost! gallery.

The Short of It – The End

This Quick Survey of Some Contemporary Caribbean Short Fiction Women Writers was submitted to another market. It didn’t work out as these things sometimes don’t; so, rather than having it sitting on my hard drive, I’m going to share the entire article here as a series of stories about some of the female writers of contemporary Caribbean short fiction whose work (specifically short stories) I have enjoyed. I began with Sharon Leach, continued with Shakirah Bourne, then Barbara Jenkins, Edwidge Dandicat, Sharon Millar, and now…

Barbara Arrindell

Barbara Arrindell

 

Name: Various
Country: Antigua and Barbuda
First let me just repeat – I said it somewhere else in this series – that Antiguan writer Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl is one of my favourite short stories – and I am not alone; it has been anthologized, discussed, taught widely.

That said…

Antigua me come from so, ironically, it proved hardest to write about short fiction from this island, not because nothing is happening, there is quite a bit of activity in recent years actually, though perhaps not as much in short fiction as other genres – much of which could do to challenge itself and push itself into wider spaces.

Barbara Arrindell, who’s written and self-published the colouring and activity book Antigua My Antigua, and the creative non fiction collection The Legend of Bat’s Cave and Other Stories, both a good fit for young readers, hasn’t published a huge amount, but when she does write, her love of history and her fondness for re-imagining what we think we know comes through. Bat’s Cave, for instance, re-imagines three bits of Antiguan lore – one personal, one religious, and the title story which is an action packed riff on the legend of real life colonizer Thomas Warner’s wife being whisked by Kalinago warriors through a maze of underground caves which local lore believes connects the islands and, essentially, ‘going native’. Her ‘rescue’ results in her exile – to take shame out of her husband’s eye – reinforcing the lack of agency afforded women in colonial times. Who else is writing that particular story? The history buff in her seems interested in writing those stories in a way that brings Antiguan and Barbudan culture and history, and folklore, alive for the non-history buff, and, it seems, especially young readers.

Speaking of folklore, she writes Anansi. Only, in her telling, Anansi is not the star of the story, rather she centres her version of How Snake Stories Became Anansi Stories (published in Volume 7 of the Womanspeak Journal of Writing and Art by Caribbean Women) on Mrs. Anansi. Remember her? Well, according to this telling, ostensibly from her mouth, it is she who pushes Anansi to stop his griping and, if he didn’t like the stories being called snake stories, get off his ass and do something about it. Moreover, she was his war counsel when it came to his plan of attack – the one to point out holes in his strategy, so much so that at one point he got annoyed with her and decided to go through on his own. His unvetted plan failed, of course, but “he was feeling so sorry for himself that I didn’t bother to say … ‘I told you so’.” She helped him plot a new plan. She didn’t hold her tongue though when that plan proved successful and her husband seemed poised to take all credit for himself. Imagine! Well, according to Barbara that’s how what might have been Ade stories, first name of Anansi in this telling, became Anansi stories credited to both the Mr. and Mrs.

Her A Life, a Spirit…a Name, meanwhile, most recently re-published in The Crier online after being published on Tongues of the Ocean was a story I first heard at the Wadadli Pen Open Mic, one of the local reading series, this one hosted at the book store she manages, meant to pull out new voices. It tells the story of life from the perspective of the not yet born and is an interesting origins point of view, albeit potentially problematic given the politics surrounding when life begins.

However you read it, there’s a sense that she’s doing here and in the other pieces mentioned what I encourage the writers who come through the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize flagship project, the annual Wadadli Youth Pen Prize challenge designed to nurture and showcase the literary arts here, where we live, to do. Create writing that is at once fresh – in its handling of trope, management of form, and angle of point of view – while at the same time unmistakably a product of the Caribbean imagination. From Wadadli Pen, some new writers have emerged in the 10 plus years of the Challenge: e.g. Rilys Adams, a finalist in the early years with Fictional Reality , a magical fantasy, has gone on to write and self-publish her own books. And new and interesting voices are peeping through: e.g. Asha Graham, an aspiring novelist, one of the youngest winners and the first to repeat, with a mastery of words beyond her years – as seen for example in her modern spin on the temptress known as LaJabless . The stories are coming, the writers are coming through, and Wadadli Pen is happy to be a part of it.

So as this survey of the landscape as far as female writers of contemporary Caribbean short fiction ends, I can say without hesitation that the women are writing – including others I didn’t get to touch on here like Trinidad and Tobago’s Danielle Boodoo Fortune (whose short fiction I have enjoyed but who soars as a poet and visual artist), Antigua and Barbuda’s Gayle Gonsalves (based in Canada), Jamaica’s Diana McCaulay (a novelist who has written some interesting shorter pieces like Sand in Motion in Volume 26 of the Caribbean Writer, which had the immediacy of journalism as nature is laid bare at the altar of development), Leone Ross, also Jamaican, based in the UK; and as I think about the many other women whose writing I have enjoyed, I know I’m only scratching the surface. We write plenty, our words run deep, and we continue to extend and put our unique stamp on the Caribbean literary canon.

And while some are already novelists, some others have written short story exclusively, and some, within the latter group, are beginning to push against the limitations of the short story form, how ever tentatively. “I’m attempting a novel,” Sharon Leach told me, laughing, in that Wadadli Pen interview (referenced in the article on her that opened this series). “Short stories are so in my wheelhouse, and the longer form really outside it.  I don’t know if I can actually write something long-range. It seems like such a long-term commitment. I don’t know how it’ll go. Let’s see how that shakes out.”

LOL, as someone who’s written both, I can attest that a novel is a long term commitment, but the short story is an intense, complicated affair – both are challenging in their own way.

Anyway, here ends this series, and if you want to check out some of my short fiction, here you go. For more short pieces by Antiguan and Barbudan writers, check this link.

Thanks for reading.

Written by me, copyrighted by me, nuh tief.

p.s. check out the links, share your thoughts…

Welcome to my new home on the web!

Oh Gad! book launch April 2012. (Photo by Zahra Airall/ByZIA Photography)

What was your mission in writing the book (Oh Gad!)?

“I don’t really write with a mission. I’m driven by the things that unsettle me, the things that make me curious; that sense of discovery is a part of my process, I think, that sense of surprise when you think the characters are going to make certain choices, the story is going to go a particular way and it veers down an unexpected path. I write because of the questions I can’t shake, from how to deal with grief and situations that just floor you, to how to get inside of things when you feel like you’re always on the outside looking in. I write from the dark and light spaces inside me. I write because I want to know these people, because they vex and enthrall me, because I crush on them or desire to understand them. And situations that concern me – family, grief, the cynicism of politics, the casualties of the tug of war between preservation and development, the thin line between mental stability and instabilty etc etc as well as the things that bring me joy, music, sunsets, the rhythm of my island – bleed into the process.”

From 2012 interview at Unheard Words .

“Hillhouse’s work gives a descriptive and poignant look at the Antiguan culture.” – Christopher Beale (Antigua and Barbuda Island Guide, 2008)

To purchase my books, go here; and click the ABOUT section above to learn more about my writing career and creative exploits on the one hand, and paid services as a freelance writer and editor on the other. Looking for information on the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize writing programme  I run in Antigua and Barbuda? Go here.