This is a books post

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

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

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

Best of Books

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

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

with_grace-a-peek-inside

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

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

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

The Boy from Willow Bend - COVER.p65

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

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

musical_youth_nov1-e1415925946338

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

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

Dancing cover 2

Oh Gad! (publisher Simon & Schuster, USA)

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

New Stories

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

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

NEW_DAUGHTERS_HIGH-RES-670x1024

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

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

Author Kit Single Doc

Joanne C Hillhouse Books

 

 

 

 

2017 End of Year Book Survey

I’m doing this because books are my happy place (one of them) and 2018 started to lose its new year smell today (which no bueno since my new year doesn’t officially begin until after my birthday). One way to hold on to that new year smell is to limit contact with the real world but the real world will not be denied! Come in, books, to give me a happy.

Thanks, ZeeZee, for inviting me down that rabbit hole with you. Nod to the creator, Jamie, the Perpetual Page-turner. Jamie said she isn’t sure she’s going to participate because she didn’t read a lot this year. Ha! I see your ‘didn’t read a lot this year’ and raise you ‘welcome to my life pretty much every year’ – because I swear the book blogging community makes me feel like a slug. These are some fast reading, plentiful reading people. But, still, I’ll play.

2017 Reading Stats

Number of Books read: 19
Number of re-reads: 0
Genre you read the most from: Fiction (various)

Best in Books

1. Best Book you read in 2017: I’m going to stick with the one from my year end Top 10, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.

2. Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love more but didn’t: I’m reading it; will see how it turns out.

3. Most surprising (in a good or bad way) book that you read: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. This one actually ended up in my hands after I complained about the movie in a facebook group and a book blogger decided to send the book to me because the book is always better. It was. So much better it’s in my year end Top 10.

4. Book you pushed the most people to read (and they did): I didn’t push a lot of people to read this one but it is the book that I talked about a lot, prompting someone else to read it and fuelling much discussion between us. The Known World by Edward P. Jones. Number 2 in my year end Top 10.

5. Best series you started in 2017? Best Sequel of 2017? Best Series Ender of 2017?

Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist series. Technically, I started this some years ago as I had a role in editing a later book in the series but I started at the beginning this year and am two books in. I like it so far.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2017?

I know I read some people I haven’t read before but I can’t think of any new author I discovered.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

I think a vampire mash up with historical fiction featuring a well known former US president (Lincoln) is pretty far out of my comfort zone though anyone who knows my joy of speculative fiction might disagree.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.

9. Book You Read In 2017 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

None. I’m not much of a re-reader.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2017?

None of the covers really wow’d me.

11. Most memorable character of 2017?

I think maybe the boy, Free El Salvador, in the Lizard Cage because his fate is what had my guts twisted up in worry during most of the reading.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2017?

Wide Sargasso Sea. Beautifully descriptive and textured prose.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2017?

Probably The Known World. The writing in this had a way of surprising at times, without being showy, but what was even more profound was the way it made me question and/or re-discover what I thought I knew about slavery.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2017 to finally read?

Probably Wide Sargasso Sea. I am Caribbean. Jane Eyre which it responds to is one of my favourite books from girlhood. It’s a Caribbean classic – one of the rare Caribbean classics by a woman, one that everyone has read; but like so many classics, it’s one of those books that you feel like you already know and half-convince yourself you’ve already read. And maybe you have.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2017?

I can’t pull an exact quote or passage off the top of my head but …Marlon James’ Brief History of Seven Killings…I’m not finished reading it by half (it’s very long), but so many passages are vivid and violent and don’t allow you to look away.  Back in September when I was only 36 pages in I posted this to my facebook: ‘How many times can you say “oh f*ck, that was intense!” when reading a book? Well, I’m only 36 pages in so I don’t know yet. But “oh f*ck, that was intense!” #HistoryofSevenKillings #whatimreading …’ So you get the idea.

I’ll also share something from a book I’ve actually finished: “She couldn’t out-run Glendon, she had to wrong-foot him.” – from Skinning Up by Jacqueline Crooks in Closure: Contemporary Black British Short Stories. This was one of my favourite stories in the collection, the tension pulled tight and the situation all too relatable, if you’re a woman.

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2017?

Shortest was Go de Raas to Sleep and longest is (still in progress). See above.

17. Book That Shocked You The Most

Probably The Lizard Cage. It was so unrelentingly brutal that I didn’t see the ending coming.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

My One True Pairing…hmmm…you know what, the regency era glamourist couple in the glamourist series. They work and she doesn’t lose herself in the process.

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

The Singer in The Lizard Cage (not to be confused with the Singer in A Brief History…) and Free El Salvador.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2017 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

I guess this would have to be Shakirah Bourne’s In Time of Need. I’ve only read her short stories, some of which are in this collection, before; but this book delivered on the promise of those stories.

21. Best Book You Read In 2017 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

I guess that would have to be the Abraham Lincoln Vampire book.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2017?

No crushes. Alas.

23. Best 2017 debut you read?

I didn’t read any 2017 debuts.

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

LOL probably Leone Ross’ world of hymens, hymens, hymens everywhere in The Müllerian Eminence in the story collection Closure.

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Go de Raas to Sleep.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2017?

Probably a tie between The Known World and The Lizard Cage. Both were rough.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

Well, it wasn’t published this year but In Time of Need, maybe.

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

See 26.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2017?

I’m going to say Closure because there were so many stories in there just kind of pushing the boundaries of form and subject. See Now Then given its fluid relationship with time and its narrative form would be in there though.

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

The Known World. Loved it. But our history (as African/Africa-descended people in the Americas) has not been easy.

Your Blogging/Bookish Life

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2017?

Oh wow…Zeezee? And not just because she’s tagged in this post.

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2017?

Do You Know Eileen Hall? about The Fountain the Bough by Eileen Hall. Because I was the only one writing about her, because she’s so obscure, because there was so much research and excavation involved it felt like a proper investigation as much as a review, because once I started it felt like a mission to discover this Antiguan and Barbudan writer and return her to her people (she is described as an American poet on Wikepedia)…and of course nobody cares really, the hours on hours of research are in the end just my self-indulgence…but it was fun.

3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

After the Storm which was my first post after the passage of hurricane Irma. So many people reached out via email, facebook, and here on the blog, it was a beautiful reminder that sometimes we’re not as alone as we feel.

4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

Okay, I have three. The first is the Wadadli Stories Book Fair. My favourite moment at that was when a little boy asked me if I was a pirate. Costume win! The second was Carnival where a couple of friends and I built a mas of our own, Grace’s Merrymakers, inspired by the mango tree faerie from my book With Grace. Costume win times three! The third was pre-Christmas, the book signing for my newest picture book Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure.

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2017?

I’ll share one of my favourite comments (from Anne at Books, Baking, and Blogging) “as a white woman I think it’s important to be educated on intersectionality. I think “my” feminism is intersectional, but I do of course need to keep my eyes open and I also need to be open to learning from others. There’s so much I don’t know yet, or that I could do better. It’s posts like these that help me learn.” It was in response to my post on the movie Suffragette  and I like it because sometimes it’s not clear that we’re hearing each other across the barriers of our individual identities, and it was a nice reminder that sometimes we are.

6. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?

Time. Also still navigating how to monetize the blog.

7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

I actually did a Top Ten Posts of the Year and it was Ancestral Remembrance on Emancipation Day. Most popular book review page would probably be Closure going by page views – probably boosted by the publisher sharing the link to the review on their website.

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

A Year of Grace. I worked a long time on that video.

My Pre-Teen and Teen Lit Heroines. It seemed the kind of topic we could pick apart for hours.

Why With Grace. Where I discuss fairytale tropes alongside my own efforts to craft a Caribbean faerie tale.

9. Best bookish discover (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

So many. I think especially the blogs (too numerous to mention) that I discovered doing memes like the Caffeinated Reviewers Sunday Post and Broke and Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday. Blogs like yours.

10.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

Just to read more. Life gets in the way.

Looking Ahead

with Floree 3

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2017 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2018?

I don’t know if it’s my number one priority, but I do really want to read Kei Miller’s Augustown because I’ve liked everything of his that I’ve read so far. And he made me ackee lasagna one time (lol).

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2018 (non-debut)?

Well, I have a to-read list of pre-2018 books that I’ll need a few lifetimes to read. Pulling some from that list at random…. Decoded by Jay-Z (moreso after this year’s 4:44), The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (I like alternate histories and this one hit my radar after its Man Booker win), Handbook for an Unpredictable Life by Rosie Perez (celeb bios are a ‘guilty’ pleasure), Unbelievable by Katy Tur (I can’t believe I want to read this after the sh*tshow of the last US election but I kinda do), Women Heroes of WWll: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue by Kathryn Atwood (because the WWll period fascinates me and usually the histories fictional and non-fictional are usually so testosterone heavy), The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesy (really I’m overdue to read something from this writer whom I’ve both met and studied with), The Night Rhonda Fergusen was Killed by Edward P. Jones (I’m game to read anything else of his), Anne Rice’s Wolf’s Gift series (love-love-love her Vampire Chronicles), Leone Ross’ Come Let us Sing Anyway (because she colours outside the lines), The Repenters by Kevin Jared Hosein (I like his short fiction and have used it in some of my workshops and his earlier book got my reluctant reader nephew to finish a book)…just to name a few.

3. 2018 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

Probably Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage. I liked Silver Sparrow and I like her.

4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2018?

You know what, it’s been too long since I read an installment from Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware (detective) series. I’ve been reading it for a couple of decades, but I’ve missed a few lately, and I haven’t been able to source locally (so if anybody wants to send me one of his newer ones…).

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2018?

Read more. Finish more. Enjoy it more. Network more with other bloggers – it’s such a rich community that I’m happy to continue discovering. Figure out how to monetize and boost this blog effectively.

6. A 2018 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone (if applicable):

Well, Brenda Lee Browne’s London Rocks is technically a 2017 release  but she’s indicated that it goes in to wide release in 2018. I was one of its editors and while I haven’t had the opportunity to read the final version as yet, I liked it enough to recommend it when asked by a regional journal to be part of a special issue nominating another Caribbean writer we “feel needs to get on”.

Shout out as well to Floree Williams Whyte’s The Wonderful World of Yohan (yes, another one that I had a hand in editing) which I recently voted for as my Antiguan and Barbudan book of 2017 – an informal poll on my other blog. It’s a late 2017 release and as I said there, I voted for Yohan, among other reasons, “because he is a boy with a Walter Mitty-esque way of seeing the world which we really should encourage more – dream, dare, be your unique quirky self. Our boys need to know there’s not just one way to be or just one way to be a boy.”

(image leading in to this section is me and Floree, who came out to my signing for Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, both flashing our books)

Read reviews of any of the 2017 (or older) reads referenced in this post in my Blogger on Books series.

 

 

Back from Greenland

I want to say thank you to Dr. Robertine Chaderton, UWI accounting lecturer, member of the Caribbean Consulting Group, financial journalist and author. First for opening the most perfect little book store Greenland Books and Things with its extensive collection of Caribbean and African books (Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart to Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun to many other voices I’m yet to discover) reading St Kitts3which hold pride of place alongside the usual bestsellers – yes, including 50 Shades of Grey which was the topic of the bookstore’s first book club discussion. I was happy to see among those Caribbean books, by the way, Antiguan and Barbudan authors Marie Elena John (Unburnable), Floree Williams (Through the Window), Dorbrene O’Marde (Send Out Your Hand), Jamaica Kincaid (Annie John) and my books (The Boy from Willow Bend, Oh Gad! and Dancing in the Moonlight). Second, I want to thank her for inviting me over to St. Kitts to be a part of the bookstore’s first authors’ circle. It was different from readings I’ve done in the past. No barrier between the reader and listeners, a very informal atmosphere, a very intimate vibe, the conversation circulating.

I can honestly say that I appreciated and enjoyed every presentation on the afternoon of Saturday 23rd February and am thankful to the authors for gifting me copies of their books because I must read more. Sir Probyn Innis is a former governor general of St. Kitts and yet if he could dedicate all his time to researching and writing history, I kind of think that would be his preference. He has a clear passion for it. He states it modestly – “lots of people find it useful and I’m happy that I’m able to make that kind of contribution” – but there’s a sense that  his books, especially Historic Basseterre and Forty Years of Struggle: the Birth of the St. Kitts Labour Movement, have opened up his people’s understanding of their social, economic, and political history in the way that perhaps Smith and Smith’s To Shoot Hard Labour did in Antigua. Speaking of that book, I found the historical commonalities as interesting as the contrasts in the journey of these two neighbouring islands and wondered out loud if it wasn’t time for a collection which took the same folk history approach but looked collectively at our experiences…within the Eastern Caribbean… to begin.

Of course, one of the things we discussed in the discussion portion of the evening was funding for projects such as these. This was a point initially raised by Dr. Milton Whittaker, author of Medicinal Plants of St. Kitts and Nevis, who spoke of the funding challenges he experienced – “funding is important but also incentives; last time I attempted to reproduce (my book) I ran into VAT”. It was a reminder, anyway, that country to Caribbean country, writers and artists face the same challenges (though some moreso than others). But as the event, the exchange with these writers reminded, writers and artists rarely let limited resources or lack of state support or lack of grant money or lack of private sector philanthropy stop them. As Sir Probyn said, “if you don’t get on with it…you’ll do nothing.” So we get on with it.

I should say something about my reading reading St Kitts1which followed from the historical presentation by Sir Probyn, with whom I also enjoyed talking afterwards. Serendipitously, I had elected to string together three or four extracts from Oh Gad! dealing with the clash of history and development; it made for a natural flow. So, too, did Clement Bouncin Williams’ autobiography of his early years. I especially enjoyed his recollections about the Christina – though given the nature of the tragedy that was the sinking of the boat linking St. Kitts with its sister island Nevis, and the lives lost, enjoyed is the wrong word, but it was certainly riveting, somehow both touching and humorous as he interwove his personal experience and unique perspective.

The gathering was small, but the exchange was big. And I agree with Sir Probyn, it was “enriching”.

In this era of audio books and ebooks and film (no I haven’t read the book but I saw the movie) adapted from books …and every other diversion but books, it also takes a bit of daring to invest in a project that’s all about the paper based books and the conversations they can stir.

Keep daring, Dr. Chaderton, and thanks for having me along for the ride. I think you’re on the right track with making a trip to the bookstore not just another shopping trip but a social experience.

Finally, one of my favourite quotes of the night (and no recollection who said it): “we need to release the energies of our people, let them have a sense of ownership of their own history.”

*Please note, all photos in this post were taken by Randy Taylor; so thanks to him as well.