Blogger on Books #BookChat

ETA: to add Animal Farm and change Evolution link

I like talking about books (and, when I can, boosting the books that I like) which is why in addition to writing my own Books I have a book review/discussion series in this space (and why I’ve shopped and still have plans to develop a #bookchat multimedia series). If you’re a regular, you know this. But for the rest of you, I’ve been blogging books since My Space. When I set up a Wadadli Pen wordpress blog – for the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize project which I launched in 2004 to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda – the Blogger on Book series migrated there, and when I set up this blog (a hybrid personal, author, professional services blog), the series moved here after a time.  This is a round up of the books I’ve blogged with reviews after the link (including throwback reviews from the My Space days) since the series moved here in late 2016, broken down by genre (sort of) – previous reviews can still be read on the Wadadli Pen blog.


Closure: Contemporary Black British Short Stories (edited by Jacob Ross)

Children’s Literature

Caribella by Phillis Gershator

Emerald Isle of Adventure by Rachel Collis

The Masquerade Dance by Carol Ottley-Mitchell (w/illustrator Daniel J. O’Brien)

Tata and the Big Bad Bull by Juleus Ghunta (w/illustrator Ann-Catherine Loo)

Zomo the Rabbit: a Trickster Tale from West Africa by Gerald McDermott


Giant Size X-Men – Deadly Genesis!, the Uncanny X-Men – Second Genesis! plus bonus features by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum w/Glynis Wein and John Costanza

Rogue & Gambit: the Ring of Fire series by Kelly Thompson (writer) with Pere Perez (artist) and Frank D’Armata (colourist)

Storm: Prelude to the Wedding of the Century by Eric Jerome Dickey, penciled by David Yardin, inked by Jay Leisten, coloured by Matt Milla

X-Men Women

Contemporary Dramatic Fiction

After by Marita Golden

Friends and Lovers by Eric Jerome Dickey

In Time of Need: A Collection of Short Stories by Shakirah Bourne

Ladies of the Night by Althea Prince

The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly

Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker

See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid

Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin

Till the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma

Tuvalu by Andrew O’Connor

Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy

Culinary + Touristic Books

Gilly Gobinet’s Cool Caribbean Series

On this Island The Natives… by Dale Butler (w/illustrator Lindsey George)

Historical Fiction (including Classics and Contemporary Fiction set in the distant past)

Glorious by Bernice L. McFadden

Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandya

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

With Silent Tread by Freida Cassin


Go de Raas to Sleep by Adam Mansbach (w/illustrator Ricardo Cortes and translators Kwame Dawes and Kelly Magnus)

Literary and/or Academic Journals

(read my story Zombie Island from Interviewing the Caribbean)

The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books Volume 10 Number 1 – Summer 2017

The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books Volume ll Number 1 – Summer 2018

BIM Arts for the 21st Century 1, 2

BIM Arts for the 21st Century Volume 8

Calabash: A Journal of Caribbean Arts and Letters Volume 4 No. 2

Interviewing the Caribbean Vol. 2, No.1::Winter 2016

Women Writers: Serving the Spirits – Women and Voodoo in Popular Culture


Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

The Black Rose by Tananarive Due

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Mystery/Crime Fiction

Bad Boy Brawly Brown by Walter Mosely

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Straight into Darkness by Faye Kellerman


The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Saint Lucian Literature and Theatre: an Anthology of Reviews compiled and edited by John Robert Lee & Kendel Hippolyte

Take Time for Paradise by A. Bartlett Giamatti

Photography Books

(this is not the picture of me in Beowulf’s book but I am in the book, that is me playing with the green balloons, and this event – 2014 PEN World Voices Festival – was when he took my picture; that’s him reflected in the window)

Author: The Portraits of Beowulf Sheehan by Beowulf Sheehan 

Hidden Secrets of St. Croix by Clarice C. Clarke


Evolution: Weaving in and out of Consciousness while the Truth is Somewhere in the Middle by Felene M. Cayetano

The Fountain and The Bough by Eileen Hall

Like the Singing Coming off the Drums by Sonia Sanchez

The Nakedness of New by Althea Romeo-Mark

Passions of the Soul by Elaine Olaoye

Turn Thanks by Lorna Goodison

What Yellow Sounds Like by Linda Susan Jackson

Speculative Fiction (fables to fantasy to horror to magical realism etc.)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

Animal Farm by George Orwell

The Awakening: A Vampire Huntress Legend by L. A. Banks

Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Joseph – a Reggae Rasta Fable by Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal

Vegas Bites: a Werewolf Romance Anthology by L.A. Banks, J.M. Jeffries, Seressie Glass, Natalie Dunbar

Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Teen/Young Adult Fiction

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Home Home by Lisa Allen-Agostini

Inner City Girl by Colleeen Smith-Dennis


Linking this post with Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer because that handle describes me perfectly. This week’s question: “do you continue with a book even though you aren’t liking it?” – less and less. I used to feel I had to finish a book once I started it but I started trying to let that go in recent years and, in the period covered by this listing of books, I actually have a handful of DNFs (Did Not Finish) – and only some guilt about it. I must be getting older (aging in to that DNGAF period of life). Pardon my French – I need coffee.

my books -by Joanne C. Hillhouse. If you haven’t checked any of my books as yet, I hope you do (and I hope you do finish them). 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.


Jhohadli Writing Project Creative Writing Workshop Series (2018) – the Reading List

The Jhohadli Writing Project CWWS ran all through 2018. I’ve not yet decided what will happen with this programme in 2019 (though I’m leaning toward once a month critique sessions plus written critiques for people with works in progress, what do you think?) but I thought I’d share the 2018 reading list. Meaning the published creative writing we discussed in our sessions and from which we hoped to learn (we discussed unpublished writing as well but those will not be included on this list). My reading lists change and evolve, so while some of these may cycle back in, if when I continue the series, I don’t think it’s telling tales out of ‘school’ to share them here for your reading enjoyment. So, without specifics re how we used them or what we learned by using them, here was my 2018 JWP CWWS reading list.

The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi
Black Stones by Amy Bonnaffons
By Way of a Life Plot by Kelechi Njoku
The Cat has Claws by Joanne C. Hillhouse in Akashic Books’ Mondays are Murder series
City of Specters – A Short Story Smuggled Out of North Korea From Bandi’s (aka ‘Firefly’) Translated Collection of Fiction – (Trans. Deborah Smith)
Corn Curls and the Red Bicycle by Shakirah Bourne
Eel by Stefanie Seddon
Game Changer by Joanne C. Hillhouse in Moko: Caribbean Arts and Letters
Greetings from a Violent Homeland by Ritu Monjori Kalita Deka
Last Chapter on Hotel Stationery: A Short Story By Ursula Villarreal-Moura
Light by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Little Prissy Palmer by Joanne C. Hillhouse in The Machinery
Ngoma: a Zimbabwean Origin Story Retold by Gerald Hausman and Seth Cohen
Mary When You Follow Her By Carmen Maria Machado, Illustrations by Sergio García Sánchez
The Other Daughter by Joanne C. Hillhouse
The Reformatory by Tananarive Due
“Run, Lola, Run” by Jeton Neziraj and translator Alexandra Channer
The Second Waltz By Madeleine Thien
Something from nothing by Barbara Jenkins
Stickfighting Days by Olufemi Terry
The Price of Happiness An Excerpt from Chechen Writer Zalpa Bersanova’s Novella ‘The Price of Happiness’
The Ways by Colin Barrett
We Always Smile for Photos by Shakirah Bourne
What will happen to the Sharma Family by Samrat Upadhyay
Who Will Greet You at Home By Lesley Nneka Arimah

Musical Youth

Books (excerpted):
Ayiti By  Roxane Gay
Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse
Oh Gad! by Joanne C. Hillhouse
The Price of Happiness by Zalpa Bersanova

*The particular excerpts of my book are not available online but you can read the first pages for Oh Gad! and Musical Youth. Please note that while some of my books (and stories) are referenced, it was in great part due to familiarity with the material (and the intention); participants were not obliged to buy my books – the relevant section was often excerpted in the Kit (or text) I created for each theme (Plot, Characters, Openings, Pacing, Tension, Setting etc.) covered during the course of the year.

This Week in Site Updates (New Creative Space, MBF, More)

New on the blogs this week are two new CREATIVE SPACE posting here on Jhohadli and  a posting on my trip to the Miami Book Fair over on the Wadadli Pen blog. Below are some excerpts. I hope you’ll check out the full posts and, of course, engage, comment, holler.

Re the CREATIVE SPACE postings, I began the first saying “As I have two lecture type presentations to upload, I’m twinning them as part the Lecture Circuit as both are overdue for posting.” So, that’s just what I did. One, CREATIVE SPACE 16 – MAS’KING, was a lecture (Through the Eyes of the Masqueraders: the Intangible Bond of Caribbean Movement, Music, and Mas) by Antiguan and Barbudan dancer/choreographer Veronica Yearwood at a masquerade festival in Bermuda talking about the masquerade tradition in the Caribbean and its roots in Africa.

Antigua slide
(a slide from her presentation showing the Antigua-Barbuda take on traditional mas)

Excerpt from the post:
‘In her power point, Yearwood showed familiar examples of it in Ghana, Cameroon, Zambia; “The displaced African brought with them the intangible knowledge from their Land. During this era much of that knowledge was laid dormant or sometimes quietly practiced. Added to that knowledge was the forced information indoctrinated by the slave master. During this period there was much change and adaptation and evolution, though the basic knowledge and practices remained. However, what is noteworthy is that some practices had to evolve to accommodate the given environment they were exposed to. One such evolution gave rise to the Caribbean Masquerader.” That Caribbean Masquerade began to truly emerge post-Emancipation. She showed how adaptive it was in terms of the instrumentation – the fife and iron bands in Antigua for example – and how it varied island to island – the tuk band in Barbados for instance.’

To read the full post, CREATIVE SPACE 16 – MAS’KING, go here.

The second new posting, CREATIVE SPACE 17 – UNMASKING, was my attempt to share a talk given here in Antigua and Barbuda by a former professor of mine, Dr. Carolyn Cooper, seen here dr cooper with graceflipping through a copy of one of my two children’s picture books, With Gracewith-grace-cover, in Montserrat at the Alliougana Festival of the Word (in fact, she was passing through Antigua to go to the festival when the UWI Open Campus nabbed her to give a talk and those of us in attendance were thankful to them for that).

Excerpt from the post:
‘Her message was about unmasking history, true true history, bringing to light – per the poetry of Mutabaruka – the histories that have been deliberately repressed. And – I might add – our own repression re our histories by her insistence on writing her newspaper column in not only English but also Jamaican patois, freeing our tongue so to speak. Another link to the past and another way of redefining our present and future. We are, after all, as she noted, a folk who have already “from the centre of an oppressive system been able to survive, adapt, create”.’

To read the full post, CREATIVE SPACE 17 – UNMASKING, go here.

The final thing I want to share in this post is the posting at Wadadli Pen about my participation in the Miami Book Fair.

signing books 2
(ever thankful to anyone who supports with a purchase of Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure like this lady at my after-panel book signing)

Excerpt from the post:
“My event was Read Caribbean presents Adventures for Kids and I was delighted to share the stage and do a signing afterwards with co-presenters Marjaun Canady, who was a tough act to follow, Paula-Anne Porter Jones, whom I remember actually, as I reminded her, from my UWI years, and Francie Latour.”

To read the full post, go here.

That’s all for now. Remember to #readAntiguaBarbuda #voteAntiguaBarbuda

Top Tenning the Back List (a Book Meme Post)

Doing this week’s Top Ten Tuesday (my first in a long while), I realized that there are nearly 1000 books on my books I’d like to read list (woiiieeee!) and that’s not counting the ones on my bookshelf nor the ones by my bedside (i.e. the ones in progress which I can barely find time to read). *sings* To Dream the Impossible Dream!

But I doing this anyway, well halfway, because I’m doing the back list of books I’d really like to get and read (so I don’t have them yet). Sorry for breaking the rules but it’s what I can manage right now.

Here goes:

RossThe Bone Readers by Jacob Ross – I read an excerpt from this in an editing workshop a couple years ago and then this summer had the opportunity to do a writing workshop co-led by the author; I’ve also had some mentoring from him and had stories edited by him. So for all those reasons he’s on my radar but this book is a Caribbean mystery and I haven’t read a lot of those, so for that alone I am in.

jones_american-marriage_hc_hr_rgbAn American Marriage by Tayari Jones – This is an Oprah’s book club pick and was on Obama’s summer read list. But that only confirms what I’ve known about this writer since reading Silver Sparrow (instant favourite!). Been eager to read this one for a minute.

GirlThe Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig– I don’t remember what this is about to  be honest, but I found a note to myself that said I started listening to the audio book and found I couldn’t focus which is a problem for me with audio books which I only started trying this year (so far only completing Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime, Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, World War Z by Max Brooks, and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House).

KeiAugustown by Kei Miller – I’ve been mentioning this one and mentioning it; still haven’t gotten to it. But bottom line is I’ve read 2 or 3 books by this Jamaican author, loved them all, and I do think he is one of the voices of our current generation of Caribbean writers.

ClaudiaCitizen by Claudia Rankine – every excerpt I’ve read from this has fired my interest and in light of ongoing conversations on race, it feels especially timely.

repentersThe Repenters by K. Jared Hosein – I’m falling behind on my reading of this Trini writer; he’s won some more awards and published another book since releasing this one, probably more before I get to it. I best hurry up. Been wanting to read this one since it dropped.

zombiesEverything I know about Zombies I learned in Kindergarten by Kevin Wayne Williams – zombies plus the title amuses and intrigues me.

wolf giftThe Wolf Gift by Anne Rice – When the Queen of the Vampires (love her Vampire chronicles) writes lycans, I’ve got to at least check it out.

railroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – Don’t know a lot about this one but been interested since it won its parcel of high profile awards and popped up on my radar.

bealeIf Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin – love Baldwin, love that he’s having a resurgence; would love to re-read this one without seeing the movie by Barry Jenkins whose Moonlight was sublime and poetic.

While you’re here, the latest updates to the site (probably of a little less interest to my non-Antiguan-Barbudan readers, but I hope not) are three new entries in the CREATIVE SPACE series. Start here.

Also new to the site, an addition to the Books page: the Spanish edition of my most recent picture book LOST! A CARIBBEAN SEA ADVENTURE: ¡PERDIDA! UNA AVENTURA EN EL MAR CARIBE.

Some updates from the Wadadli Pen blog:
#ReadAntiguaBarbuda #VoteAntiguaBarbuda
Caribbean Reads Announces Two New Spanish Language Titles
Lost! At the Miami Book Fair

Oh and real quick (since I’m unlikely to do a separate post for this and it’s all arts), recent watches are (movies) Sorry to bother you which is a satire about capitalism and which was trippy, and 22 July a film about that mass terrorist incident in Norway a few years ago, which was unsettling and sad, both very timely in their own ways; and (TV) despite what I said here, I have been watching The Walking Dead as appointment TV again this season – sad about the departure of Andrew Lincoln who was Rick (his last episode was an emotional roller coaster), and I expect I’ll be checking in from time to time with The Evolution of Hip Hop season 2 – I’ve only seen ep 1 so far but I had been anticipating more in this series since discovering the first season. Hard to believe the hip hop I grew up on is now music history. Time keeps on ticking, ticking. What have you been watching? dying to read? blogging?

Haven’t checked out any of my books yet? Children’s picture books to teen/young adult fics to adult novels; read more. If you’ve read my books, please consider posting a review to Amazon or Goodreads if you haven’t already done so. It makes a big difference. Thanks! For information on my writing and editing services, here’s where you go. – blogger, author, mango lover, Joanne C. Hillhouse

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.

My Top Ten Posts of the Year

Time for the rundown of the year’s most popular posts. Hope you’ll check them out if you haven’t already.

#1 – Ancestral Remembrance on Emancipation Day

Excerpt: “You know, it’s a strange thing, but I heard that when slavery was over the slaves at Old Road didn’t even get drunk. I heard there was no great happiness among them. They didn’t know what would happen, so them give assurances that they will not leave the plantation, that they will continue on working for the old owners. The old slave massas let them continue to work the ground and grow food for themselves.”

Reflection: This one surprises me; I guess there’s more interest in our history than we realize as this is literally excerpts related to Emancipation in Antigua and Barbuda from the book To Shoot Hard Labour.

#2 – After the Storm

Excerpt: “I have seen social media posts (seemingly out of the US) indicating that we don’t matter either because the posters have never heard of us, because we’re too small to matter, because we’re ignorant for living in a hurricane pathway, because our houses are supposedly poorly built and not because of the 185 mph winds that passed directly over Barbuda, or because we’re doomed anyway – because climate change. I will agree with one thing; we do need to take climate change seriously – it is a factor and, though islands like ours are among the most vulnerable, this is a global problem. The lives of many hang in the balance. The Paris Agreement (which America recently pulled out of) was one step toward combatting climate change. So, in addition to supporting recovery efforts, we can resolve to educate ourselves on climate change and on efforts to mitigate its impact, and do what we can to support and advocate. The lives of every single being on the planet hangs in the balance. We have a saying here, today for me, tomorrow for you; I mention it here not to wish any of the trolls who scoffed at our pain ill but as a reminder that we need to stand together, because we’re all in this together. We, in the Caribbean, grieve and stand with the world when bad things happen anywhere in the world. We are very tuned in to the world (though we know the world is not likewise as tuned in to us) and we care (to wit, our hearts go out to Mexico as well at this time in the wake of the quake there). One of the trolls said we matter only as tourist destinations, and it is true that we live where the world vacations.”

Reflection: This is the first post I wrote after hurricane Irma; I’m delighted especially at how much it’s been shared as Barbuda and other affected islands and countries need all the help they can get (still).

#3 – Grace’s Merrymakers

Graces Merry Makers

Reflection: This was my post on my mas troupe inspired by my book With Grace; thanks for the interest, guys.

#4 – Anne Lamott shares 12 Things She knows for Sure

Excerpt: “via 12 things I know for sure: Anne Lamott speaks at TED2017 — TED Blog

Reflection: This was just a share but understandably one that’s proven popular among book bloggers and readers.

#5 – Food as Culture

Excerpt: ‘Food to reflect differences.

‘“I can help with snacks,” the woman was saying. “Finger foods for during rehearsals and performance night.”

The woman seemed almost shy. Was that Granny Linda? He’d pictured someone taller. Her voice had sort of a shake in it too. This was Zahara’s no non-sense, ‘take no bullshit’ grandmother? Wow.

“Maybe some grilled pork and pineapple skewers?” she added.

“That sounds good,” Mr. Perry said, nodding. “Although you know, some of the kids are vegetarian; pork might not do for everyone.”

“That’s okay, I can substitute chicken,” Granny Linda said, and at that everyone fell out laughing.’’

Reflection: This post was sparked by an online food debate about the right way to make ducana (a Good Friday staple in Antigua) and got me thinking about the ways food shows up in my own work. Who knew food could inspire so much passion.

#6 – In the Race

Excerpt: “Thanks to my nominator for taking the time to read the work (With Grace) and fill out the forms (I know it was a pain); you didn’t have to and I appreciate that you did.”

Reflection: My post on my nomination for the Astrid Lindgren prize.

#7 – With Grace Selected for the Virgin Islands Summer Read Challenge

Excerpt: “As the author of With Grace, I am delighted at this development and hope With Grace continues to find its way in to the hands of children across the Caribbean and around the world.”

Reflection: When I learned that I had been selected for this, I was hyped. Thanks, VI. I just got a copy of the special edition – it’s not in the original post but I’m going to share it here anyway. That’s me with the publisher and the special edition of With Grace.

meeting with Mario Nov 2017

#8 – It’s Lost! Pub Day

Excerpt: “Remember, go to my facebook  (today – November 30th 2017) to participate in the AMA, author-illustrator in conversation, Lost! virtual launch, book birthday.”

Reflection: This AMA was dope. Okay, it wasn’t so much of an AMA as a chat between me and the artist, loved that.

Lost Cover Front 4

#9 – Top Ten – Contemporary Caribbean

Reflection: This trended primarily across the book blogging community; happy to introduce others to books from my part of the map.

#10 – Do You Know Eileen Hall?

Excerpt: ‘If you google her, you might find her wiki entry (no pictures though) describing her as “an American poet”. Not true. She is, though, a largely forgotten Antiguan poet; and the same wiki entry does disclose that “Hall was born in Antigua; her father’s family was from Oxford and her mother’s family was part French and part Irish, the French side having been in the West Indies since the mid seventeenth century.” Like I said, Antiguan poet, one of the first – research would suggest – to be published internationally. Her 1938 book, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, was The Fountain and the Bough.’

Reflection: Researching this post after I’d read Hall’s book consumed the better part of a night, so I’m glad there’s some interest because damn I went down the rabbit hole on this one.

Those are my top ten – i.e. most viewed, shared, liked, commented on – posts of 2017 (so far). Thanks for reading.

Of Puberty, Bigamy, and Fairy Godmothers (etc.)… Repost

This is a re-post of something I wrote and posted elsewhere in 2012. I’m sharing it here as I’ve removed my content from that other place. Also because it concerns two authors whose work I love – Judy Blume (I’ve written here before about Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret) and Tayari Jones (read my review of her book Silver Sparrow). In addition to being a brilliant writer, I’ve met Tayari on a couple of occasions

with Tayari

Here we both are at the 2015 Brooklyn Book Fair.

and she’s always been gracious to me – even to the point of reaching out after hurricanes blasted through the Caribbean region this season to make sure I was okay. So it is with enthusiasm that I let you know that she has a new book coming out in the new year: An American Marriage – put that one on your to-read list.


Here’s the re-post.


By Joanne C. Hillhouse

Judy Blume wrote of puberty in Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, a favourite of mine going way back. Tayari Jones’ blogging … and later a facebook ‘friendship’ had landed her acclaimed SilverSparrow, a tale from the perspectives of two daughters of a bigamist, on my to-read list. I just happened to be here this week for the NY launch of my book Oh Gad! … and in the midst of mixing promotion with playing tourist (hitting everywhere from Tribeca to Central Park, MOMA to the MET), I found my way to the Barnes and Noble where these two literary ladies would be dialoguing. Lucky me and the 150 or so others ‘eavesdropping’ on their enlightening engagement.

A few things that stuck with me…

“You have to be ready” – Tayari Jones

The story goes that Blume, a well established author essentially anointed an up and coming writer (Jones) by introducing her to the publisher who would eventually bring Silver Sparrow to market. It’s kind of a literary fairy tale really, a fact noted by Jones in proclaiming Blume her fairy god mother. Of course, this bit of grace would mean nothing if the chosen one had nothing to show or say for herself. Thankfully, Jones did, her readiness opened the door and out flew the Silver Sparrow.

Note to self: stay ready.

“Readers want to see what is the real secret, and what’s gonna happen once the secret’s found out” – Tayari Jones

An important reminder, to my mind, that plotting is driven as much by what is unknown as by what is known, and the tension comes, in part, of not showing your hand too early. Their curiosity sparked, the need to know is what keeps the reader up at night turning page after page. But it’s not one sided. The need to discover is in great part what keeps me up at night, as writer being led by these characters. Yeah, you read that right, being led; because I believe (as said by one of the facilitators at the Callaloo Writers workshop which I also participated in that summer at Brown University in Rhode Island) when it’s really on, your characters actually guide you.

Note to self: stay curious and open.

“If you can write about what it is to be trapped in an elevator, you can write about what it is to be trapped in a space ship” –Tayari Jones

I remember commenting to someone not too long ago that I’m not a method writer, yet as I once wrote in a poem I know that I routinely steal from life. Snatches of this and that that become something else by the time I’m done with them. I feel that Jones is saying something similar; writing what you know doesn’t have to mean boxing your narrative in, it can mean using what you know to explore other spaces. Of course, what Jones was really commenting on was the question all fiction writers get: How much of this is biographical? The answer: None of it and all of it.

Note to self: Use what you know, to discover and explore what you don’t know.

“You want to paddle them to safety and (but) you have to let them swim or not.” – Tayari Jones

Your characters do become like people you care about – even the ones that are difficult to like. But comes a time you have to let them go, sometimes without a happy ending. As writer, you don’t always know what their fate will be until it blindsides you. That’s not to say that you have nothing to do with the crafting of the tale, but that often you can’t strong arm the characters into going where they’re not meant to; and sometimes even you have to let them go, painful though it may be.

Note to self: Let your characters walk the path they are meant to.

“If it works, it works; I don’t mess with it” – Tayari Jones

Jones writes old school on vintage typewriters each with his or her own name and I can only imagine personality. Blume apparently has a writing shack. Jones (like me) reads a lot (all the time, even when writing) and that’s an ongoing part of the learning process (because, as I always say, reading is one of the best ways to learn about writing). Blume was unabashed about the fact that as far as writing schedules go, “everything’s a mess” with her including her emotions (“I love it and I scream and I’m frustrated”). Jones writes early in the morning when the phone isn’t likely to ring unless there’s an emergency and you can empty everything else out. I write foreday morning too only I’m more of the haven’t-been-to-bed-yet variety than the get-up-early variety. To wit, as I write this blog it’s somewhere between 3 and 5 a.m. and I haven’t been to bed yet. Understandably, I wake up late. It took me a while to not feel guilty about that and to blow off people’s judgment (“you just now getting up!?”) – after all they’re probably getting more sleep on average than I am.

Note to self: Do what works for you (there is no single way).

“I don’t know if I hate classification or I hate categories or if I hate the way people perceive the categories” – Tayari Jones

Exactly! I thought as Tayari said this even as my companion snorted at the explanation. But here’s the thing. I know exactly what she means. People slap a label on you (or your writing) that does not begin to describe the complexity of you/it, and then they deride it for the label they gave it – chick lit, erotica, Caribbean, urban, whatever. I am a Caribbean writer. My first two books, The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, were dubbed young adult when, as Blume explained of her own books, I never wrote them as that. That was the label slapped on them by the publisher for marketing, and really I didn’t have a problem with it, and don’t, except for when I’m expected to be a children’s writer when I’ve probably written maybe one children’s story* in my life and usually wind up doing Anancy stories or something from Wadadli Pen (the youth writing programme I run in Antigua) when asked to read to kids (not to be confused with teens for whom I’ll usually read from my own work). Now Oh Gad! is published by Strebor, a Simon and Schuster imprint owned by Zane, known primarily for erotica; and while being apart of her brand is expanding my readership, I’ve been compelled to explain a time or two that my book is not erotica – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

As I wrote in a recent blog, these categories are a marketing issue and not a writer’s concern. Like Judy said about how she came to write the types of books she does, “I just wanted to write what I knew to be true”.

Note to self: Keep telling your (characters’) truth, telling authentic stories, and defying the class-i-fications.

I love how disarming and down to earth Blume seemed, how witty and smart Jones seemed, and how genuine their connection seemed. It was a veritable lovefest with the woman who wrote books beloved by so many (Blume) saying to Jones of her book, “The story is moving and moving and moving and you do wonder what will happen next”, while Jones mentioned that Blume was one of her literary inspirations going back 30 years.

“That’s really good; I should write that down,” Blume quipped at some insight from Jones and, doing her one better, I did write it all down (hence this blog), even as I smiled at the off-hand comment. Another such moment came when Jones commented of spending the last 15 months on the road, “it’s been a wonderful gift to do it” and Blume, who’s likely been down that road a time or ten, tossed in, “it’s wonderful to do it… once.”

I ended up buying a copy of Silver Sparrow and getting online to talk with Jones. Because social networking can create a false sense of knowing, I was nervous about introducing myself to her even as I wanted to introduce myself to her if that makes any sense. I’m glad I did in the end and(though I want to assure her that I’ve never stalked anyone and I’m not about to start now) I’m hoping that our paths do cross again and that I maybe even get to share a stage with her some day. A girl can dream, right?

Meanwhile, I will be reading Silver Sparrow and continuing my own writing.

*Okay, so as fate would have it since asserting that I was branded a children’s author without having any actual children’s books, I’ve written an actual teen/young adult novel (Musical Youth) and a couple of children’s picture books (With Grace, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure). musical_youth_nov1-e1415925946338with-grace-coverCoverCheck those out too if you’re so inclined. Go here for all my books.