Papa Jumbie published in Akashic’s Duppy Thursday series

‘Just as Steadroy finish mek up he bed under de Big Head, smadee call he name. He freeze … “Papa?” … … … he shiver, looking up de nose-hole of the stone statue, before turning pan he side and resettling heself. De plastic flower an’ dem wha dem lay last Labour Day rustle when he shif’, but after dat, dead silence.

Smadee call he name again.

He tun back pan he back; stare hard pan Papa stone lip an’ dem, looking for even a quiver … … … he choops to heself. Only picknee believe in jumbie. Dead na speak an’ Papa dead long time. Besides, Papa jumbie woulda up Heroes Park not dung inna market.’

papa

So, I wrote a ghost story… That’s it excerpted above (man, it’s hard to find excerpts that don’t give the whole story away; especially when the story is limited to 750 words). Delighted to have been selected for this series. Read the whole thing published in Akashic’s Duppy Thursday series.

This is my third Akashic publication. First was my submission to their noir Mondays are Murder series The Cat has Claws and second was Amelia at Devil’s Bridge published in Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean (for which Akashic teamed up with Peepal Tree under the imprint Peekash).

 

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Adda Mi Seh: Journey to Publication (The Other Daughter)

Re new fictional publication, The Other Daughter in Adda, an online publication of the Commonwealth Writers organization in the UK. Thought I’d blog the journey to publication of this particular piece as part of my blog’s mission to share the ins and outs of #TheWritingLife

***

I’m always writing. The Other Daughter is one of those stories I’ve been working on and tweaking, and submitting (rejected at least twice before Commonwealth Writers expressed interest in publishing it), and tweaking again for a while (since maybe about 2015). So I can’t say specifically where the idea came from (though people will come up with their theories – I’ve had at least one of these floated to me since its publication…#itsjustfictionfolks).

What I will say is that it’s about a mother and daughter which if you’re familiar with my work, mothers and/or mother-type figures are a feature – and, contrary to my own life, fathers tend to be absent or might as well be (I’ll do better, dad).  That I come from  the kind of nuclear family the main character in Daughter has never known isn’t even the most I stretch out of my comfort zone with this story. A father who’s a prime minister, a mother who’s a whore? But that’s one of the things I like about fiction: the opportunity to explore and report on other lives. Different as it is though, it comes back to mothers and daughters and that’s something I continue to explore. In Daughter, we have a complex relationship between a hard of necessity, will sacrifice to a crime mother and a daughter still trying to make sense of her world and the mother she is both bound to and pulling away from.

One of the things I was interested in while writing this was point of view. There are time and reality shifts in The Other Daughter but it’s all firmly rooted in the daughter’s point of view. I started with her as a child and the things she notices – like the gargoyles (in fact, as I write this I’m 70 percent sure this started with her noticing the gargoyles and me trying to capture that detail) – and the things she doesn’t yet know, like the ways her life is about to change. She is one of the first writers I’ve written (she may be the only) so it’s insight to how writers bend reality until what’s real becomes subjective.

A chill ran through me at the sight of those two gargoyles, with their bat wings spread out behind them and their faces frozen in a snarl that I could almost hear. Up close, their gray skin seemed to ripple in anticipation of taking flight. I almost peed myself when I passed between them.

It’s also a commentary on society’s hypocrisy (especially at the intersection of gender and politics).

My mother didn’t take notice of any of it, she never did in daylight. But then one of them got bold, called across, “your girl getting big”. My mother’s hand tightened around mine, painfully, when he added, “she soon ready”. She didn’t speed up, just kept moving. Hitching my knapsack higher, I kept pace with her, as their laughter followed us.’

A note on editing: the excerpt above didn’t exist in the original draft, but there was an editorial note that prompted me to think about what set the events of the story in motion – and I found that I always knew (because sex as commodity and predatory behavior were already stamped in to the DNA of the story), I just had to write it. Editing was a bit frustrating as it often is but a good editor challenges you and you just have to decide what’s absolute (what’s worth fighting to keep, what needs to be stripped away, what needs to be varnished, what needs to be added) – painful as it can be, you have to be open to the process. So, I won’t say it’s not rough – we writers are nothing if not precious about our words. But as I met the page and its red notes, I had to laugh at the irony as I was just then coming off an editing project where I’d had to navigate the frustration of some writers resisting even the slightest change to their words. God has a sense of humour…and life sends you the reminders you need. And after the red marks and back and forth, my story was better for it; which is the goal, isn’t it?

“The hill we climbed was at the outer edge of the city and seemed a million miles from our world. We lived at the bottom of the city – close enough to the harbour to have gotten used to the assorted smells of the run-off from human activity on the island, and from the big ships that docked there. We had never had reason to go uphill – a cascade of plain buildings where the starched people did office work. We had no business there as far as I could see. The building at the very top of the hill, washed in white and trimmed in gold, was as impressive as a palace.”

Now about how it got published. I learned about Adda at an editing workshop co-sponsored by Commonwealth Writers which runs the site. I inquired about and was inboxed the submission criteria. Nothing secretive about it (and this and other markets can be found on my other blog); Commonwealth Writers also then and certainly in future circulate submission calls via their email and social media. I submitted and received an offer of publication (and yes, this is a paying market), and then over several weeks engaged in the rigors of editing. My own strategy is to take edit notes a bit at a time, like hot tea, don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to read it all at once – that’s how you get burned. In this way, you get to the end, carefully considering each recommendation. It’s about what’s best for the story, not about your ego. Something I’ll have to remind myself about next editing go-around.

That’s pretty much it. When they asked about art, I suggested, as I always do, Antiguan and Barbudan artists whose works I felt were a good match for the story. They liked Heather Doram’s work and negotiated with her for the use of said work. Interestingly enough, the piece we reached out to her about is not the piece that was posted with the story…it was one of several pieces that Heather sent during the back and forth. When both I and the Commonwealth Writers rep saw it, we knew it was the perfect match for the story. I am thankful to Heather D., an icon in the Caribbean art world, for agreeing to the use of Fusion and for going the extra mile to make it post-ready. And I am thankful for placing my fiction in yet another place that will hopefully continue to bring not just my writing, but writing from Antigua and Barbuda, to new and far-flung readers.

My other published works of short fiction are listed here and my books are listed here.

Throwback Q & A: Musical Youth

I got some promising news from the publisher of Musical Youth this past week. Can’t share it yet, but I can share this previously unpublished interview that I did shortly after the book’s launch.

Musical Youth

What inspired you to tell this story?

I’m a music lover. It was probably inevitable that I’d someday write a book inspired and driven by my love of music.

How did you begin? Did you research or do other prep work, or jump right in?

Jumped right in. Pretty sure I should have been asleep when these teens showed up one ‘foreday morning intent on telling me of their musical dreams, friendships, romantic entanglements, fears, families, discoveries, adventures, and the excitement of embarking on a summer production that would ultimately change their lives. They were persistent, and it was a matter of trying to keep up with them on what turned out to be kind of an epic but compacted writing binge.

What is your writing process like? What do you do when you feel stuck or stumped?

Well, I’m feeling stuck and stumped right now. Stuck because of time. Stumped because when I do make the time the snippets I’ve written aren’t quite fitting together into a narrative that makes sense. And that provides some hint of my process. I write to discover, so in that first draft I’m rushing forward or inching forward, but it’s forward, not all over the place like I am right now. Usually it starts with the character and different moments, feelings, impressions, ideas weave their way in; but I picture it as a character kind of taking me by the hand and pulling me into her/his story. Once I have a first full draft down, I tinker. With longer works, novels, because I also write stories and poems, it takes months, years to get that first draft down, so the tinkering happens as I dip back into the world of the story but then hopefully I keep moving forward until I figure out what the story is about. The redrafting and editing allows me to fine tune, rip out what doesn’t fit, shade in what needs colouring, texturing. If the story I’m working on isn’t happening, I’ll work on something else, just step away from it for a while. I write best at night, I don’t write best in absolute quiet – so music is a good companion, but I grew up having to write with life happening around me, so silence is actually quite distracting. I try to schedule writing time every day, and I try to do something writing related during that writing time even if the story I need to be working on isn’t happening.  The scheduling is more a reminder to myself to prioritize my writing even if the writing itself sees fit to rebel against being wrestled into a schedule; it comes best when I’m just walking or taking the bus or driving or feeling life – times when my brain is kind of just idling. I always have something to write with because of this. And I always have a book on go, because I also find reading not only entertaining but inspiring. Having goals is a motivator for me as well, if there’s somewhere I want to submit or just a workshop activity – oh working with other writers, as I do as a workshop facilitator and writing coach, is actually quite stimulating as well. But there’s no single thing I do to get myself out of the rut… whatever works.

What’s the most surprising or unexpected thing you learned about the creative process while writing your book?

Sometime after I wrote and published Musical Youth, I discovered an unfinished story called the Guitar Lessons, and I could see the link between my personal story and Guitar Lessons and Guitar Lessons and Musical Youth. It reminded me of this poem called Stealing Life that I’d written years earlier, about how we, writers, kind of snatch and store bits and pieces of things, pulling them out without realizing it like a seamstress digging through his or her basket of scraps while sewing a patchwork quilt. It wasn’t a discovery so much as  reminder but I did blog about it here  It’s a reminder as well that sometimes you have to push but sometimes the story will emerge when it’s ready.

I’m most surprised though that I was able to write a full first draft in roughly two weeks. Not recommended by the way, but maybe the fact that the scraps were already scattered inside me waiting to be sewn together is what made it doable. The story was ready to be told and the characters thankfully were a joy to be with so the telling though …feverish… and tightly focused was fun.

What was the hardest part, and what was your favorite part?

Plotting is always a struggle for me. There has to be an internal coherence to the story, a logic to the flow of the narrative.  Character, voice, pacing, tone, these things came fairly easily – the chemistry between the characters, Shaka and Zahara as young love blossomed, Shaka and his crew, their camaraderie, the melding of kids from different backgrounds as they take on a challenge, a number of challenges, was actually fun. But this particular story had some underlying themes and some reveals that required careful handling in the case of the plot, making sure the backstory is consistent with what’s now being revealed etc. Thank God for editing and at the same time editing was my personal hell – so much to do in a very tight window because the original draft had been so rough and the publishing deadline was so tight, the book having been fast tracked after the manuscript placed second for the Burt Award for Young Adult Caribbean literature. In the end, I’m happy with how it turned out – but between addressing structural issues and fighting for what I felt was essential and picking my way through the things that needed clipping and additional writing for texturing and to better connect certain dots – it was stressful.

If you could meet three authors (living or not), who would you choose and why? OR What author do you read for inspiration? OR Who are three authors who inspire you?

Well, if I could have a lime without the social pressure of being chatty and interesting myself, I’d gladly sit over drinks and nibbles with Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Dandicat and Zora Neale Hurston soaking up their stories, and wisdom. I’ve actually met and had drinks with Jamaica, Edwidge is my literary crush – I love everything she writes especially Farming of Bones and Create Dangerously, and I’m fascinated by Zora’s adventures, in love with her spirit and talent, saddened by the arc of her life, and encouraged by the post-note to it, to which a lot of credit I think has to go to Alice Walker, another woman I would like at that lime. (lime: Antiguan for social gathering/hanging out).

What’s the best writing advice you have been given?

I honestly can’t think of one solo piece of advice off the top of my head; but you know which writing book I’ll be recommending forever and ever I think, Stephen King’s On Writing. Lots of good advice in that one. And for the mechanics, I always return to Janet Burraway’s Writing Fiction.

Please ask and answer one question you wish I’d asked.

Stumped again…  I suppose, since this is an American blog and I am a Caribbean writer, I could ask something like why would a reader from America be interested in books by a writer from Antigua. My answer, it’s an imaginative road trip to a different culture, and the realization at the end of it that wherever they rest their heads at night, people are, after all, just people. My characters for all their differences from your reality are still people – and I’ve found as a reader and writer that even within the differences it’s often possible to find something relatable. The best writing, in my view, doesn’t pander to that idea but lets its characters live and breathe, and the open reader can really have an enriching experience stepping into that other-world as it is and just breathing it in. If you’re anything like me, you’ll like the adventure of exploring a different world for a while, all without leaving home; though travel is fun too.

By the way, you can find out more about me and my books here https://jhohadli.wordpress.com

Behind the Story – At Sea

I’m starting this new series on the blog ‘behind the story’ inspired by what St. Lucian artist Donna Grandin does on her blog – providing the back story, re inspiration, technique, challenges involved in creating some of her paintings. It’s not something I’m comfortable with, I have to admit. I like to let the story speak for itself. But I’m also kind of moved to re-visit some of my short stories (in part because of a retreat presentation I’m preparing in which I’ll have to talk about how therapeutic and cathartic writing  has been in my life, in part because a question to this blog stirred things up in me and inspired this post… the 10 Day Challenge I recently did on facebook in which we were encouraged to post not only the creative piece but also the experience of creating it probably has something to do with it as well) so I think I’ll try it, at least with some of the journalled pieces,  and just stop if ish gets too real.

At Sea – can’t find it online anymore but this short (very short, only about 600 words or so) story was initially completed in 2005 and published after numerous revisions in 2011 in Munyori, a Zimbabwean-American online platform:

The first thing I was trying to do with At Sea was to create an image, a moment, that was sort of like a faded, runny watercolour; something weathered, which also felt like it was waiting for change to blow in. So this story was very much written from a visual part of my mind (stoked by a certain longing) and might not have happened if I’d had the skills to paint it. I consciously borrowed two other things from real life – two men – I’m not saying who, one whose accent I found alluring and one whose eyes and energy draw you in. Everything else is complete invention including the location though I did have a physical space in Antigua as a reference point in my mind (that I then added to). There’s been a lot of adding and subtracting throughout the life of At Sea. If I opened it up right now I’d probably fiddle with it. I was never quite satisfied, even after it had been published. But I do hope it paints a picture:

He had once been the adventurous Captain of their little seaside village; braving storm, hauling fish pots and telling the best at-sea fables while roasting fish over a grill made from a steel drum in the ‘Shack’s’ backyard, under a blanket of stars.

As a child, Rita had sat on the sand, breathing the smoke and sweet aroma, face turned to the stars, wishing for romance and adventure of her own.

Links to my various published stories can be found here.

Excerpt from There is no Spoon: the Thin Line between Memory and Invention

Copied below is the text of my presentation at the 3rd Congress of Caribbean Writers, April 10th to 13th 2013 in Guadeloupe. It is part of a longer paper earmarked for publication in the Congress journal, but which you can read in full here: JCH Guadeloupe Conference Paper

As both reader and writer, I’ve found writing (and in particular, fiction) has the power to transport me to places I’ve never been, into the lives of people I’ll never meet. I’ve found it’s quite an effective way of absorbing new information without realizing you’re absorbing it, and for me there’s often greater concern – as both reader and writer – with the emotional truth over the factual truth. … for me, I suppose, there are deeper truths than just what happened. The bare bones recording of what happened I’ll leave to historians, I guess. I like history but I’m a writer and a reader and I suppose a part of me just wants a good story.

That said, I don’t take the role of storyteller lightly. I believe it has force.

…remembering is not a passive thing, not when it can give meaning to now and remind us of who we are.

I first found out about the slave dungeon at Orange Valley in Antigua during my earliest days in media –it was one of the first features that I did. And subsequently, and briefly, I became part of a committee interested in creating awareness of and preserving the dungeon.

SlaveDungeonOrangeVal2

The dungeon is fashioned from a small cave in a rock, it has a single opening, the remains suggesting it was bolted by a heavy door. When we visited for the report and put a barrier across that opening, we found that inside is complete darkness and hard stone, and could imagine the little critters creeping through the crevices. I was able to use that experience and the oral history from the interview – when tanty tells Nikki that they were told as children not to play there and why, for instance.

Legend goes that a pregnant slave was once locked there and on giving birth suffered the trauma of her baby being eaten by rats.

There are records of two other known slave dungeons, the Torturer and the Bump Off at Parson Maule’s – I’ve never seen these – but Papa Sammy, an Antiguan working man who told his story to his grandchildren Keithlyn and Fernando Smith so that they would chronicle it, in the spirit of the slave narratives speaks of the Torturer in the non-fiction, post-slavery narrative, a personal and social history To Shoot Hard Labour: “it still stands and is shaped like an old fashioned pill box with a rounded roof… (it) was so called being very small and dark, with only a small air hole. Massa was able to control the amount of air the slave could breathe according to the gravity of his ‘crime’” he said of the Torturer. Of the other, he said, it no longer exists. Fact is, compared to Nelson’s Dockyard and the various forts, places like the dungeon form part of our selective amnesia when it comes to our enslavement and its lingering impact. You won’t find it in the tourist brochures as you’ll find those places.

In my novel Oh Gad! I would write the dungeon at Orange Valley back into the narrative, and yet, I’m not a historian, I didn’t set out to write it back into the narrative, simply to tell the story of a girl planting roots; that the dungeon in the fictional Blackman’s Valley as a major part of the sub-plot served the story is really the only reason it’s in the tale, because for me, it all comes back to the story.

“The dungeon was hidden behind more bushes, built of stone and brick and tucked against the hillside. Had she not had a guide, Nikki knew she would never have found it; it being a small dark cave, with two or three steps leading up to the opening. She got a chill when she stepped in – stooped over, as she was not able to stand all the way – and saw the dots of light dancing across the stone face. The place felt alive.

“What happened here?” Nikki asked in a hushed voice. (Page 154, Oh Gad!)

“Bakkra would stick them in there as punishment,” Tanty said. “I imagine it feel like being buried alive: all manner of insect, hardly any air, and just the darkness. When I was little, I was afraid to go there; thought ghost was in there. My Tanty, she said the spirit of them that dead there might still be lingering, but I was from their blood and they wouldn’t do me no harm. She said we mus’ respect it and remember. We mustn’ play there. That wasn’t no place for play. It was to stay so, so we could remember how neaga suffer in dis country.” (Page 155, Oh Gad!)

Once I realized that the dungeon was a part of this story, I embraced it; and post-publishing, I’m thrilled that I was able to ink it into memory. Because I don’t believe that forgetting serves us. I believe that the memory of all that our ancestors survived should embolden us to be our best selves, to honour their legacy by fighting to retain the freedom they bled for.  And I think it’s somewhat ironic that though we hold the reins of institutions of politics and education, we still don’t control the central narrative.

Much of the history we would have studied in school, my generation, is of our enslavement from the perspective of the other, in no small part because their records are what survive; we also studied that history as though there was no prologue as though we began on the plantation.

Books like Keithlyn Smith’s To Shoot Hard Labour which I would have been introduced to in secondary school would have begun for me the process of shifting the perspective because it covered the post slavery period – another period little explored –from the perspective of Papa Sammy, an Antiguan working man. It was not the usual story and was groundbreaking in that regard, as much as for the insights it provided to folk history.

While non fiction, that’s the kind of book that inspires this desire to thread the history of the folk through the fiction that is Oh Gad!

“Tanty had this notion that the pilgrimage would help to heal the wounds caused by all the recent fighting. She believed, too, that it would help those who couldn’t see or understand what all the fuss was about; it would help them understand the sacredness of the place.  The way Tanty saw it, the land at Blackman’s Valley and up to the Ridge was washed in the blood of her ancestors, people who had survived the worst one person could inflict on another, and deserved their temples like the great gods and ancient pharaohs.  She believed that the pilgrimage would help ease the tension, settle the spirits, bring the warring factions to common understanding. Besides, she was getting old and hadn’t been up there in a while. She longed to reconnect with her ancestors. Her tanty had given her permission and that was good enough for her. She held Nikki’s hands and looked into her eyes, and said with more intensity than Nikki had ever seen from her, “People must know who dem be, must remember what important.” (Page 240, Oh Gad!)

 Writing about this dungeon, writing part of the reality of my ancestral folk into the fiction I was creating is, to me, part of the power of story; this writing of yourself into existence, in story after story after story, telling the many different stories that make up the many million lives until they are more than the label, more than the event, but human beings of value and worth, who in turn value their journey and appreciate, as Tanty did in the novel, that certain things are not for sale, at any cost, not when you know who you are.

Re-memory is about seeking ownership and self-definition in this instance. Certainly, as far as our enslavement in these lands is concerned, for me it’s about, as well, breaking the silence, enshrining those places of pain and triumph into our collective memory.

I wrote a ghost story recently; it takes place at Devil’s Bridge and in it there’s a little girl whose body is discovered by a group of kite hobbyists. She spends the entire story trying to get them to see her, desperate for them to see her, not really understanding that she is dead. And I had to wonder why so much tragedy is set at Devil’s Bridge, it seems every time I go there in fiction, it’s not about romantic trysts as in the Antiguan movie The Sweetest Mango, but suicide, broken marriages, death. Why is that? Is it because I associate Devil’s Bridge, notwithstanding its awesome beauty with the mythology that this was where the ancestors went to plunge themselves against the rocks and into freedom. Papa Sammy wrote as much in To Shoot Hard Labour.

“On the east coast of island is the famous Devil’s Bridge. Devil’s Bridge was called so because a lot of slaves from the neighboring estates used to go there and throw themselves overboard. That was an area of mass suicide, so people use to say the Devil have to be there. The waters around Devil’s Bridge is always rough and anyone fall over the bridge never come out alive.” – Papa Sammy Smith in To Shoot Hard Labour, P. 109

The actual Devil’s Bridge is a natural bridge carved of soft and hard limestone on the north east edge of the island, with nothing between it and Africa 3000 miles to the east except stormy seas that beat against the rock as though seeking revenge for something. These ocean swells are responsible for the erosion that’s resulted in the natural bridge formation and the spectacular sprays of water and foam that make this a popular tourist spot. I never feel pained when I’m there, often for the kite festival or some other fun diversion, but in my imaginings, this outcropping of rock becomes a place of last resort as if history has imprinted an emotional note that emerges during the trancelike process of scratching a characters’ life across the page.

(EXCERPT FROM AMELIA)

But she didn’t plan on ending up here at Devil’s Bridge which she only recognized because of a long ago school field trip. How would she have even remembered the route or hitched a ride, and why. She can’t cut through the fog in her mind to get to the answers, and the cars are closer now, causing her to draw in even tighter behind the spindly cover of the acacia, thankful for the grey of ‘foreday morning.

They pass. Bringing up the rear is a Nissan pick-up loaded with things, manned by three boys, boys maybe a little older than her, sitting on the very edge of the pick-up as it bounces up the path.

She tracks them, all the way up to where the path ends and the land flattens out into giant slabs of bleached and jagged rock, and patches of thin grass. She watches as they unpack kites, of all things, and a cooler, from the pick-up, and turn up the stereo – reggae blasts to wake up the morning. She stands near the back of the pick-up, so close she can see where it’s starting to rust, her nakedness forgotten as she eyes the drinks in the open cooler. She’s suddenly so thirsty. And thinks about asking for a drink, or maybe stealing one, it’s not like they’re paying attention. Thirteen or so of them, mostly men, all ages, and they’re busy getting the kites in the air. The wind is picking up and the sun is coming up and the water roars as it bashes itself against the Atlantic-facing rock. No one will notice if she slips a Coke into her pocket.

That’s when she remembers she doesn’t have a pocket, that she’s naked. And shouldn’t the water on her skin have dried already? She’s shivering against the wind as it hits the droplets still running down her skin as though she’s only just stepped from the water.

My book is named Oh Gad! – a colloquialism of the folk pottery, the coal pot and coal pot making. My father’s family still practices this tradition in the Sea View Farm community in Antigua. It is tradition in that it’s passed down generation to generation from grandmother to mother to now my father’s sister. The coal pot they crafted from clay was at the turn of the century, even up to the 1940s, according to published reports, was an upgrade from cooking by the fireside. In addition to the coal pots, there were yabbas – used for roasting cassava bread or bambula – vases, flower pots and more. These days there are ash trays, candleholders and other decorative items – the folk pottery, made from the soil near Sea View Farm, crafted by hand without use of a potter’s wheel, fired right there in the back yards, having become popular tourist keepsakes and cultural products.

I wasn’t raised in the family business and have had only a handful of opportunities to see the pottery made, there in the shed, right there on the compound where my father grew up, where my aunt still plies her trade. And yet this world came alive for me when crafting Oh Gad! – what I’d observed and researched about the process coming to the fore, so too vague memories like that of my grandmother, Mama, under the big date palm in the yard. There was not enough memory there to use, but there was enough to inspire. I was inspired by these women who built their life from the soil and by this thing they created that was far from perfect, but each one unique, exquisitely beautiful and fragile. It’s what I tried to capture moreso than factual details, the aura, the essence, the atmosphere of that world.

…Memory fades, what is not recorded or actively engaged is forgotten…While I am neither a historian nor an academic, I consciously and sub consciously ground my fiction and my poetry in our unique Antiguan and Barbudan history and story. It is a way of preserving it, of reminding us of who we are, what we’ve been through, and perhaps what we value.

“The stories my mother and other elders told during my formative years – the folk tales, proverbs, superstitions, and jumbie stories they themselves internalized from their elders – inform how I live my life to a degree and provide fodder for the storyteller I’ve become. These stories were handed down like the knowledge – of how to turn fungi (pronounced foonjee) so it doesn’t come out lumpy, how to cut the salt in pickled meat when making pepperpot, how to ensure that custard has the right consistency and doesn’t burn – is passed from mother to child. I’m not much for cooking, but my mother’s pepperpot recipe also ended up in the book mentioned earlier, my fiction again being drawn into the re-memory process. I guess that’s how I make Cassava bread.” – from How to make Cassava Bread and other Musings on Culture  http://antiguastories.wordpress.com/food-2/food

… I want our culture and history to be a living, breathing thing; there in the way we talk, what we eat, the places we occupy and how we engage with each other.

Mostly I just want to tell engaging stories but my stories are not anywhere stories, they are Antiguan stories, in all the ways described because the fragments of memory, individual and collective, are knitted into the fictions.

It all comes back to story

The first came on the bus…they were friends, friends for life with vastly different views of the world, and the moment I eavesdropped on was the one finally telling the other to get off her high horse and stop pitying her because she was happy with her life…she meant it too…yes she was a waitress, cleaning up vomit and pocketing tiny tips…but she didn’t need  college degrees and endless hours of work…she didn’t need her job to define her…she just needed it to pay her so that she could live her life and define  herself…later two guys walked side by side and one of the guy’s little sister remembered coming upon a scene where they were locked in an amorous embrace…she didn’t understand what she was seeing then…had no frame of reference for it… the thing that strikes her about them now though is how normal they are…how happy in each others’ embrace…is the story about the sister and her brother, the two men…the little sister?…one of the men is an importer/exporter, one works in his dad’s electronics business…their romance happens in the corridors of their life but is the biggest part of their lives…they are not stereotypical in any way…and every one sort of knows but looks the other way…who knows where these people came from…they’re not real people though real people inspire them…people I walk by as I walk…who knows why they linger as they do… or if they’ll hang around long enough for me to catch the details of their lives…hard to do when you’re chasing bills and hustling gigs…but one of the pluses of riding the bus and walking everywhere…who needs a working car?…is how much you observe and how much it triggers and how much your mind wanders…snagging a random detail…the way, his locks snake down his back…the way they both wear their clothes baggy but one’s heftier than the other other…and playing with the images…do their hands brush even as they keep their distance walking side by side through the city?…is that oversized shirt his shirt or the other’s?…how do they exist, find normal, in this world where such things aren’t normal?…and who are those women, the waitress and her friend…is one of them the girlfriend, the sister…and if she’s the girlfriend, does she know she’s the cover…and why does the sister have slanted eyes in her brown face?…what’s their ethnicity?…so many threads…such yearning to pause and pause and pause and just thread them together … that they exist …that my mind takes these sideway trips is one of the things I like about the writing life…that time eludes me (and let’s not get started on money) is the challenge… the pushing water uphill challenge of this life…well that and the rejections… yep, another day, another fellowship rejection (how many is that this month)… some days, it’s too heavy to carry, this bag of rejections…and yet the stories keep me light and floaty…even on the days I contemplate letting it all go.