… 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.
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.
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.
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?).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.