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

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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.

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Both Sides

I should have posted this already but better late than never, I suppose. The delay is not a reflection of anything but not enough hours in the day. Something this Burt Award judging process reminded me of. I’ve judged writing contests, locally, before, but it was my first experience judging a book prize, and a regional one at that. I would learn that reading that many books on a schedule can have even a book lover whimpering, with no intended aspersions to the books themselves, please, no more. Interestingly, as the process narrows to the top contenders, you get a shot of adrenaline again as you spar with the other judges making a case for this choice over that until you arrive at as close to consensus as you can get with something as subjective as art. I’ve been on both sides of this process now and have intimate knowledge of how vulnerable you feel when you leap into this kind of thing, hoping they’ll pick you, steeling yourself for the probability that they won’t; and, as well, the grave responsibility you feel to give each writer a fair reading, to consider and re-consider. Hopeful on both sides of being surprised.

MusicalYouth
I remember receiving word a year ago around this time that my unpublished manuscript Musical Youth had been selected for the Burt short list; I remember it was maybe 3 in the morning and I called perhaps the only friend I can call at 3 in the morning without there being a life or death emergency. And the next time we fight, and we will, I have to remember that not only didn’t she immediately hang up the phone on me but she was right there with me, as awake as I was at the news. Musical Youth has been good to me and good for me as a writer, and I continued to do all I can to make sure it fulfills its potential as a book by reaching as many readers as it can. Books are meant to be read, right?
And these second set of Burt winners deserve an audience as well. In the end, I think all four judges agree on that. What’s more I think the core target audience, teens and young adults of the Caribbean, will enjoy the adventures these books take them on both in the moment, and later, on reflection. The top three haven’t been announced as yet (I know something you don’t know LOL) but you’ll see what I mean when they are and when, ultimately, you have the opportunity to read them. Meantime, big up to all who dared, big up to those on the short list, big up to the finalists and ultimate winners. To my fellow judges, it’s been real…seriously.
On the list are:
– Children of the Spider by Imam Baksh, Guyana (manuscript to be published)
– Putting Up a Resistance by Michael Cozier, Trinidad and Tobago (self-published book)
– Dancing in the Rain by Lynn Joseph, Trinidad and Tobago (manuscript to be published)
– Prayer to the Motivator by Kamau Mahakoe, Jamaica (manuscript to be published)
– The Dolphin Catchers by Diana McCaulay, Jamaica (manuscript to be published)
For more, go here.

And given that it’s awards season, I’ll also mention that the Hollick Arvon long list has been announced, and the Bocas long and short list – special congratulations to Dorbrene O’Marde who’s Short Shirt biography Nobody Go Run Me made the long list of the latter. And let’s not forget the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, with four Caribbean writers claiming a spot.
All but one of these will be announced during the Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad. Wishing all contenders success.

And since we’re talking prizes, I should mention that I have already been announced as one of the winners of the Caribbean Writer’s Flash Fiction Prize; and on April 11th, I will be announcing, during the awards ceremony at the Best of Books, the winner takes all winner of the Wadadli Pen 2015 challenge which I coordinate.

Gratitude for both – the opportunity to reap and to plant, the opportunity to see things from both sides. And to all who dare to leap, including myself, continue as Zora Neale Hurston’s mother said to her children to “’jump at the sun. We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.’”

Scotland Scrapbook

I really did have a good time in Scotland as these pictures sent to me by Belizean author and co-panelist Ivory Kelly attest:

Ivory and me - or if you're reading left to right, I guess that would be me and Ivory.

Ivory and me – or if you’re reading left to right, I guess that would be me and Ivory.

Getting all posey cozying up to this statue at the Mitchell Library.

Getting all posey cozying up to this statue at the Mitchell Library.

Of course, he had nothing on this living statue seen in the streets of Glasgow. Wonder what he does if he gets an itch.

Of course, he had nothing on this living statue seen in the streets of Glasgow. Wonder what he does if he gets an itch.

He wasn't the only diversion on the streets of the city. A riot of sound, bag pipes and all.

He wasn’t the only diversion on the streets of the city. A riot of sound, bag pipes and all.

And we found other ways to entertain ourselves. Can't go to the UK and not have a pub lime. That's me and Ivory with Glasgow-based Jamaican writer Kei Miller.

And we found other ways to entertain ourselves. Can’t go to the UK and not have a pub lime. That’s me and Ivory with Glasgow-based Jamaican writer Kei Miller.

...a relaxed moment with Emma, from the Commonwealth which brought Ivory and me up for the panel.

…a relaxed moment with Emma, from the Commonwealth which brought Ivory and me up for the panel. We’re in the lobby of the lovely Malmaison https://www.malmaison.com/locations/glasgow/

The thank God it's over and hey that didn't go half bad after panel smiles - from left Gemma Robinson, me, Ivory, and Scottish writer Martin McIntyre.

The thank God it’s over and hey that didn’t go half bad after panel smiles – from left Gemma Robinson, me, Ivory, and Scottish writer Martin McIntyre.

Thanks for sharing, Ivory.

Read my blog on my time at Aye Write! and after.

And pre event interviews with me and Ivory.