A Book Back

books 2018My novel Oh Gad! will be six years published this year. If a book was a child, she’d be a first grader. Damn. I had high hopes when it came out too. It was my second act and my first full length novel after two earlier releases. My first to crack the US market. Hell, yeah I had high hopes. You would think I’ve since learned to manage my expectations, right? Nah, son, I still have high hopes. Against the odds. I’m hard-headed like that. #TheWritingLife ETA: Shortly after I wrote this, this happened (the author specifically referencing Oh Gad!) – 10 Female Caribbean Authors You Should Know And Add To Your American Lit Syllabus – life (and publishing) is full of suprrises.

Here’s an excerpt:

Before Nikki was a motley crew – curious expats mixed in with home-grown Rastafarians, academics mixed in with area farmers, grey heads and chinee bumps, and the odd politician. It was not only a larger, but a more diverse crowd than she had anticipated.

A part of her dared hope, as she glimpsed some of the Blackman’s Ridge project’s staunchest opponents in the crowd, that this could be the bridge between the warring factions. That was the goal, anyway. She’d tried to get Cam to come, but he’d scoffed at the very idea. “Make mosquito nyam me up all night,” he’d laughed. “For what? I don’t hold to all that ancestors crap.  Black people hang on to slavery too much, if you ask me. Is that keeping them down. I’m a practical man. I live in today. Anybody who know me, know that. For me to go up there would be a bold faced lie; and I never lie.”

The night’s programme consisted of a drum call and dub poetry. At midnight, the dawning of Emancipation Day, August Monday, when Antigua’s enslaved Africans got their first taste of freedom back in 1834, plastic cups were passed around, and libations sipped and poured out ritualistically in honour of these survivors and the many more non-survivors. Tanty had insisted on that and mixed up the “bebbridge” herself.

Everyone got a chance to enter the dungeon, in pairs and threes; some emerged quickly and unscathed, others were visibly moved by the experience of being stooped and confined in the small space.

As Sadie began her oral history of the dungeon, of slaves imprisoned for infractions, imagined or real, a reporter from one of the local stations, ignoring the mean look she shot him, stuck a recorder in her face.

“…many died here sick with their own fear as it come through their skin and full up the air ‘round them ‘til they were breathing their own stink,” Sadie said. “Not a lot of new air could get in ‘round the heavy door they had barring the entrance. Only tiny cracks leave back for insects to crawl through and torment them to the last. As for them that survive, there was madness or relief, relief that sucked at their fight and spirit…”

Nikki found herself seduced by Sadie’s words and her voice, as she spoke with previously unheard serenity and authority.

A noise cut through the night: A bone deep, belly full moan. It was Tanty, swaying, eyes tightly shut. Nikki reached an arm toward her, then hesitated.

Tanty’s moan cut through her. Not like a knife. Like waves, curling beautifully in and into her, relentlessly. Nikki sighed and even cried a little; the moment, the long moments, overwhelming her, filling her with both sadness and joy. She felt like she was being filled and emptied at the same time, like she’d eaten too much and yet not enough.

The scent of roasting cashews, which Tanty had insisted on, perfumed the night air.

Nikki had been concerned about fire spreading but then Audrey had, unexpectedly, donated a couple of coal pots which allowed them to contain the fire. And as the scent now wafted out, the moaning swelled, continuing to fill the gaps; a chorus for Sadie’s chronicle which ended with a roll call of Antiguan martyrs and heroes from King Court to V.C. Bird. Here and there, there were tears. As Sadie’s voice, hoarse now, faded, the drums once again took over, taking on the timbre of Tanty’s unabashed moaning.  The drum talk took them into fore day morning, as the Antiguans called those hours just before day break. It was then, in that in-between time, that Nikki came back to herself as if from a blissful dream. She caught snatches of it, of being inside the dungeon, of not being afraid, though shadows and light, ancestral spirits, danced across the jewel-like stones along the cave wall, Tanty’s voice reminding her that she was from their blood and they wouldn’t do her no harm. As even memory faded, Nikki opened her eyes to the sight of pale light now spreading across the sky, and discovered that she was leaning against Belle’s shoulder as her sister sat still as a rock.

*

Related Oh Gad! posts

Launch gallery
First pages
What the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books had to say about Oh Gad!
Oh Gad! Presents a Compelling Slice of Island Life (NPR)
Reviews
Antigua and Barbuda historical spaces in Oh Gad!
(Another) Oh Gad! excerpt
All Joanne C. Hillhouse Books

Advertisements

What’s New, As the Year Winds Down

Promo Flyer correctedI launch a new creative writing workshop series in the new year and for the first time you can participate from anywhere. Contact me to find out how. For background on my past workshop experience, go here, and for performance reviews re workshop and other writing services, go here.

I’ve launched my newest book, children’s picture book Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, a launch highlight being this past week’s book signing at the Best of Books.

As you can see, it wasn’t just about Lost! – people left with signed copies of With Grace, Lost!, and Musical Youth. These are essentially the children’s and teen/young adult portion of my …of the books I’ve written. Thanks to everyone who came out. For more images, check the gallery.

We’re now in to the busiest part of the holiday weekend. I hope the year has been kind to you and the new year is even kinder. As a working writer, I hope for more opportunities to continue doing what I do. You can support the journey by, of course, buying the books, writing a reader review, sharing book news, and, in my case, news of my workshops. The thing writers need most is time (including a time out now and again) and a boost – at times a promotional boost, at times a motivational boost, at times a financial boost; because hard as we work, as much passion as we have for what we do, it doesn’t always balance out. So, boost a writer if you can.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Top Ten Favourite Reads of the Year

This meme asks for Top Ten Favorite Books of 2017 but I’m doing Top Ten Favourite Books (not including literary journals/periodicals even if I’ve blogged my reviews of them) I’ve read (to completion) in 2017 – none of which, as it happens, were actually written in 2017. Now what do I mean by favourite? This is not strictly speaking about literary merit, though that’s in there too, but also the books that were enjoyable, engaging, got me talking, talking back, and which I don’t have to stretch to recall or recapture as I prep this list.

10. See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid See now then
Before I read reviews of this, I saw reviews saying you either love this or hate it, no middle ground. Not true. I didn’t love it or hate it; but I appreciated it. And, as usual, the flow is quite seductive. Link to review.

9. Glorious by Bernice McFadden Glorious
I enjoyed the beginning sections of this and the end, but there were times in the middle where I just didn’t care that much; overall though it was the feelings on the bookend that stuck, that and an overarching appreciation for the larger purpose of the tale beyond the individual woman’s story. Link to review.

8. The Fountain and the Bough by Elizabeth Hall Hall
Something stole Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird’s (a book that reminds that as writers we’re all a bit crazy but take one thing at a time, take it bird by bird, and we can probably muddle through) spot on this list and this poetry collection might be it. I mean, I liked it but top 10 liked it, I’m not sure…but it was just such an exciting discovery for me as an Antiguan reader and writer, I couldn’t not share it on this list.  Link to original review.
7. Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal Shades
I like books that feel experimental and this does – regency era fic that intermingles fantasy/sci-fi (in that magic is a normal and seamless part of that world) is certainly experimental without being clunky and ridiculous; a compelling main, female character and adherence to the rules of the world grounds it. I also liked the second in the series Glamour in Glass (which is a more ambitious historical re-write) but I liked this first one better. Link to original review.

6. Closure: Contemporary Black British Short Stories by Jacob Ross closure
Story collections are good, especially if your reading time is limited – it’s like snacking as opposed to sitting for a full multi-course meal. If this book was a snack, it’d be healthier snacks – a vegetable platter but with a nice, tasty dip – by which I mean it’s not easily dismissed fluff, it takes a while to digest and it’s enriching, well-crafted insightful stuff, but not always fun. Link to original review.

5. In Time of Need by Shakirah Bourne Time
By contrast, this single-author story collection is pure fun even when its dealing with some unbearably painful stuff. I’m not sure what kind of snack that would be because it’s not empty calories but like with potato chips or fries you’ll go through it without realizing it and you’ll want more when you’re done. Its placement on this list ahead of Closure really adds up to which snack you’re in the mood for and that depends on the mood obviously. Link to original review.

4. The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly Lizard Cage
I was so anxious as I read this, particularly in the last third, because I had come to care so much about the characters, and because it is so unflinching and unrelenting in its telling of a brutal story set largely in a prison in Burma/Myanmar – that somehow manages a redemptive arc (though not, strictly speaking, a happy ending). It wasn’t fun but it was good. Link to original review.

3. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Seth Grahame-Smith Abraham-Lincoln-Vampire-Hunter
This was by contrast my swiftest (with the exception of Go De Raas to Sleep) and most fun (also with the exception of Go De Raas to Sleep) read (so why isn’t Go De Rass to Sleep on this list again?) of the year. It’s just such a ridiculous premise and anytime I mentioned I was reading it people got very judgey but dammit books are supposed to be fun and ridiculous sometimes too…and this was that (much more so than the movie which kinda sucked) plus, with unexpected depths. If Twilight fan fiction can become the bestselling 50 Shades (and I’ve read neither, by the way), I’m not going to feel shame for liking a mash-up of historical biography and vampire fiction. I like what I like. Plus this book got me through the literal dark days of the worst days of this hurricane season. Link to original review.

2. The Known World by Edward P. Jones edwardpjones_theknownworld1
I kept bugging a friend with details about this as I read it, so much so that she ended up borrowing it and reading it after I was done. It settles the reader in slavery era America but doesn’t allow anyone – white or black or indigenous/native – to sit easy in a familiar narrative; you might say it unsettles the reader in slavery era America and has an unfamiliar narrative take on a story we thought we knew. Link to original review.

1. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys Sargasso
Part of what makes this classic interesting is the way it fills in the blanks re another literary classic, Jane Eyre. And Rhys’ story (covered somewhat in the intro) is also interesting. These things make the reading richer. But as a standalone, even without knowing about the author or the book’s place as anti-fan fiction, it’s still just really good, really well written…really infuriating in its probing at issues of race, class, and gender in ways that can still get the blood hot. Link to original review.

This is not science obviously; these lists can change minute to minute…and I’m reading at least one book now that I’m sure would be among my year’s best if I finish it before the end of 2017. But for now, dey e dey.

Since we’re talking books, as a reminder, these are mine  (pictured at the top of this page) – please consider adding to your Christmas shopping list.

Sunday, Monday

Saturday wasn’t good (there was police involved… don’t ask), so let’s just move past that to Sunday, because, yay, I finished another book, making this a legit (I promised) addition to Stacking the ShelvesSunday Salonthe Caffeinated Book Reviewer’s Sunday Post meme and It’s Monday What are You Reading (because it’s already Sunday night here, which is kind of like Monday).

The book I finished is Bernice McFadden’s Glorious. Glorious

See a review excerpt below:

“Really, though, what I started to get, the closer I got to the end, was that this book is more of a full biography (with all of the coming of age, first loves, romances, adventure, career, growth etc.) that a full life entails. More than that, it is really the story of the African American, and specifically the African American female artiste, through main character Easter’s journeys away from and back to where she started. And in a sense from boxer Jack Johnson’s defeat of Jim Jeffries in 1910 to the 1960s civil rights era, this is the story of America – achieved with only one major time jump.

As with Sugar, previously reviewed, McFadden does a really good job in making the recent history of which she writes touchable, seeable, feelable. The imagery is vivid, the historical notes solid and interestingly montage-y, the rhythm of the language has a beauty and musicality, and seductive layering, that you see for the first but not the last time in the opening sequence when it connects the Johnson fight worlds away to the traumatic, catalyzing incident in young Easter’s life, suggesting a connectivity between everything (or if not everything, unlikely things) that’s really thought-provoking. Historical figures, like Johnson, Garvey, many from the Harlem Renaissance, and others are worked in seamlessly and original characters claim their space in the reader’s imagination as well. Shortcomings include what feels like loose-ends in that some characters, Rain for example, kind of disappear back in to the scenery when Easter’s arc with them is done but without satiating my curiousity about them. Overall though, the language is beautiful and striking, Easter has an interesting life, and the world she moves through is rich; and Easter in the end feels like someone of that time, not just of that time in the novel, but in reality, and her journey all too sad and familiar.”

Go to Jhohadli Book Reviews V to read the full review.

Still on the active reading pile:

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
All the Joy You can Stand by Debrena Jackson Gandy
(those are the two I’m most actively reading)
Nobody owns the Rainbow by Kristene Simelda
(this is an advance review copy – Simelda is based and the novel is set in Dominica, which is all the motivation I need to remind you to support hurricane relief efforts in the Caribbean if and where you can)
Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya
The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
(I started these about the same time and am about 20 pages in in both cases…sigh…I’ll get there)
The Black Rose by Tananarive Due
Singles Holiday by Elaine Spires
DiaCritica 26/2
(bigger sigh…because, I know, I know, I’ve been reading these for a while and enjoying them when I actually have time to read them more or less but I need to finish them already)
Serpent Bride by Sara Douglass
(newly plucked from the book shelf…yes, I know I have 8 books ahead of this one and have no business plucking another book from the shelf… but picking a new book when I’ve finished one is one of my life’s simplest pleasures…don’t ask me to give that up… programming note: the shelf is looking lighter! does this mean I’ll be able to get new-er books soon?)

Wishing everyone a good week – myself included.  We’ve earned it.

Nail Polish, Lost, Stranger Things: a Mish-Mash

Situation right now…I’m taking off chipped nailpolish and getting ready to re-apply ahead of a media panel this afternoon and a written communications training early in the week (spoiler alert: it may have chipped again by then). And as I do this, I’m not for the first time amazed at women who make time for all of this polish 24/7/365 because ugh… I’m half-convinced that my first Big Chop (when I went from straigthened/processed/permed hair to shine head to natural hair) was as much about reclaiming my time as reclaiming my roots because I was one of those women who hated the endless hours in the salon. It’s all so time consuming. So, yeah, I’m here doing the nails instead of writing or reading or whatever (and taking a time out to type this because that’s what’s on my mind this Sunday, probably partial distraction from the nerves that is always a precursor to any kind of public presentation).

But while I’m here, I want to say that the highlight of my week was receiving my copies of Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure:

Read about it here and about all my books here. Its official launch date is November 30th 2017 (though it’s already available for pre-order online).

Didn’t finish any books this week so nothing to report there but we had a holiday plop right in the middle of my week here and in between the beach and other activities, I managed to binge Stranger Things.

!SPOILERS FOR SEASON 2 OF STRANGER THINGS AHEAD!

!SERIOUSLY TURN BACK NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T CAUGHT UP YET!

First thing I’m discovering that I’m not a fan of binging; it’s way too much of a time commitment (after a while it stops being fun and is just another thing you need to finish, because). That said, I did binge it and…

stranger-things-release-date-poster

Season 2 was okay. Yes, just okay. Relative to how fresh (and, paradoxically, retro) Season 1 felt. It felt like it hit many of the same beats (Christmas lights become paper drawings but Winona’s house is still a mess) and yet things were off (like the relationship between the boys, whose chemistry was a big part of what worked for me in season 1), and also like it just threw more money at a fun idea – let’s take one of the characters on a road trip away from middle America and in to the big bad world of faux punk (yeah, I wasn’t feeling the rag tag band of thieves at all). The reveal of a sister for 11 was interesting (and the adventure allowed her to test the boundaries of her talents), everything else about the diversion storyline, not so much. The parents are laughably bad – totally no awareness, involvement in, nor control over the dangers in their children’s lives (except for Winona/Joyce and her parenting comes off as a bit overprotective because of all her son went through in the first season…surely there must be a middle ground). But I suppose that’s very 80s teen movie as well from the Goonies  to the Lost Boys to Back to the Future to Ferris Beuller to Sixteen Candles to Adventures in Babysitting – a sub-theme in each of these and every teen movie of my childhood and teens could be how not to parent. Sidebar: coming from a different culture, I remember watching these movies in the ’80s and marvelling at how kids talked to their parents in America; raising their voices, slamming doors and sh*t because in my world (ha!) which part?

The bully is annoyingly stereotypical and  styled as a Rob Lowe circa St. Elmo’s Fire knock off. As nostalgia trips go, though, it was nice to see Paul Reiser and Sean Astin join the likes of Winona Ryder and barely-there Matthew Modine; seeing them again takes me back to the time I watched teen adventure movies like Stranger Things. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure about Sean Astin at first – not because of him but because, why – but he grew on me even as he grew on the characters in the series.

I still like Hopper (as in was generally bummed when I thought he was a goner) and Joyce (yay Winona) and like that they have a history you can feel but that they’re not boom (!) jumping in to bed with each other – I ship them (as friends) not as lovers, though if it leads there eventually without being forced, okay, but it’s neither necessary nor should it be inevitable. I liked the relationship between Hopper and Eleven for the most part, though I wasn’t feeling her punk aspirations – not punk-averse, she just looked to me like she was playing dress-up and acting out, emotionally and clothing-wise. Maybe I just miss her Furiosa hairstyle. I also liked the addition of Max if a little less so the eye rolly girl tension – yes, let’s have the girls hate each other; and boy drama – let’s have the boys fight over her and in the case of the one still pining for his lost love be incredibly rude to her. Ugh. Did I mention that part of what worked for me in the first one was the relationship between the boys – well, that was heavily disjointed in part because of the boy drama, in part because the plot had them running away from each other (it made for an unexpectedly interesting friendship though when one of the boys needs the aid of a bat with nails to kill a demo-dog). The other less interesting detour was the older teens’ love triangly something or other with a side order of conspiracy theory spouting obsessed reporter. Didn’t hate it; didn’t care.

All stories were neatly tied up by episode’s end at the obligatory high school dance (think Pretty in Pink) where we get not one but two first kisses. And even as I say everything was neatly tied up…there was a frustrating sense of not-knowing that I haven’t quite shaken by the end of the season. All of that said, Stranger Things season 2 was an entertaining genre mishmash 80s style if not as ‘fresh’ as the first season.

You know what felt fresh on re-watch this week though Pride and Prejudice (alas, no I didn’t do a quick re-read of the book but); how much do I love the romance between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy as played by Kiera Knightely and Matthew Macfadyen, and especially that ill-fated proposal in the rain – which, alas I couldn’t find on youtube but it was bumping in to this scene once on late night TV that made me watch this version of the Jane Austen story and over several viewings since the whole film has become one of my favourite film romances (*spoiler alert* he eventually gets the proposal right).

I’ll try to finish a book before next week…I will…but until then this is this week’s Caffeinated Reviewer Sunday meme post.

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:

WithoutSummer-rough-rev-500x747

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.

***

untitled

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?

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!”

16a73d55-2d57-44b5-b8f7-7efb753e8db2

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.