Site Update (Ms. Hill…and Some Other Stuff)

Well, my favourite Spike Lee films have been scrubbed from Joanne’s Picks and replaced with my favourite Lauryn Hill rap performances. I argue that Hill is without question part of any legit Top 5 conversation. Check out the rhymes that I picked to make my case.

Remember this page changes so hurry up.

No new Blogger on Books but FYI this week I’ve mainly been reading Inner City Girl by Colleen Smith-Dennis (with whom I shared the stage back in 2014 when her book and mine were top three for the inaugural Burt Award in Trinidad – she eventually placed third while my manuscript Musical Youth placed second). I’m liking the main character so far and the authentic sounding detail re her life in a Kingston, Jamaica ghetto. I’ve also been reading, plucked from that active reading pile, Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal. I like that these characters have now become so familiar to me that I can pick up their lives without missing a beat notwithstanding how long ago I put it down- but makes sense considering that I’ve already read two other books in the Glamourist series – which is Regency era romance-adventure; three if you count the one I co-edited.

The only other site update, since the last updates post, has been on the reviews page for my other writing – journaled or anthologized poems or fictional stories. Check it out.

That’s it. Oh! My guest post at Women Writers, Women Books, Are Children’s Books Real Books, went live this week.  And photographer Beowulf Sheehan’s book Authors – which has me in it among some true marquee writers – drops this week and the author did an article about the process of photographing authors over at Lit Hub. It’s worth checking out. As for the week that is…some disappointments, some challenges, some fears, but also writing (well, mostly editing) and living and, mostly, working (workshop prep, editing assignments, acceptance, disappointments, follow ups – you know, the jigsaw).

If you’re here for the first time, my name is Joanne C. Hillhouse. I’ve authored some books – I hope you’ll check them out (and if you already have, I encourage you to post a reader review to Amazon or Goodreads, or even here); and I offer freelance services – look me up if you need any of the listed services. Thanks!

 

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A Tuesday Meme (a Brand New One for Me)

Tell Me Something Tuesday is a weekly discussion post on Rainy Day Ramblings where the Meme-mother discusses a wide range of topics from books to blogging and invites others to weigh in and join the conversation .

So, okay, the conversation seems to be about horror movies as America-land gears up for Halloween. I’m in the Caribbean and though Halloween seems to be catching on here, it’s not exactly my bag. I mean, the last three movies I sorta-mostly watched are

Quincy – love Quincy Jones’ music, read his autobiography years ago, so (his recent health scares aside) not a lot new here for me…but point of view adds something, and with his daughter, Rashida, in the director’s chair and sometimes behind the lens, it is a more personal and touching portrait of an admittedly flawed and undeniably talented human being. The man who from his jazz days to his Sinatra days to The Wiz to Sanford and Son and other TV and movie themes to Michael Jacksons’ Off the Wall, Thriller,michael-jackson-thriller-e1535549330442-700x355and Bad, to The Colour Purple to We are the World to Back on the Block to the Fresh Prince of Belair to Vibe … is responsible for some of the most enduring musical and pop culture moments of our lives. I know Netflix is presumptuous (and racially stereotypical) with those algorithms so you may not even be aware of this one but it’s worth a viewing.

Nappily Ever After (also on Netflix and based on this book I haven’t yet read 41osWiEC9sL__SX322_BO1,204,203,200_)- the latest Sanaa Lathan starrer – with a side of Lynn Whitfield. These two women were staples of ‘Black’ film throughout the 90s and aughts (The Women of Brewster Place, The Josephine Baker Story, Stompin at the Savoy, A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Eve’s Bayou etc. in the case of Whitfield; The Best Man, Disappearing Acts, Love and Basketball,  Brown Sugar, Something New etc. in the case of Sanaa) and honestly I was going to watch for the two of them alone. Throw in some social commentary vis-à-vis Black women and our complicated relationship with our hair  in world where Eurocentric beauty standards (including straight hair) are the default (for more and deeper takes on this topic read Althea Prince’s The Politics of Black Women’s Hair 41fcMlIvaVLor watch Chris Rock’s Good Hair51D76G05XQL__SY445_), and what’s not to watch. I saw a lot of criticism of this one before I actually saw it. Folks felt it was light fare and too cliché from what I’m gathering, and they’re not wrong. But it’s also a romantic comedry (sic) and they do that – see every Meg Ryan film ever. So I take it for what it is and enjoy it as such (and it was entertaining) and hope that we get more and more opportunities to tell a wide range of films so that one film won’t be expected to carry the burden of telling our many stories (especially when it’s not exactly the genre for it).

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That first big chop can be scary…scary liberating…as Sanaa will find out when the tears dry (still from Nappily Ever After)

Leave no Trace – the last film I managed to see (mostly) beginning to end. I saw the trailer sometime ago on youtube and it seemed interesting so when I needed to give my brain a rest, I thought, why not. It’s the story of a father who has opted out with his daughter into the wilds of…some wet, cold part of America…until they are drawn back in to life because it turns out you’re not allowed to opt out of life with your teenage daughter. He tries to play along so he won’t lose her but in the end the restlessness gets him; the heartbreaking part coming when she discovers she wants to stay while he can’t quit moving.

I liked all three in different ways for different reasons (but didn’t love any of them…probably taking the most joy and insight from Quincy). But, obviously, no horror here. I did catch the season 9 premiere of The Walking Dead which jumped the story forward a couple of years to something approximating what passes for normal in a zombie apocalypse, walkingdead-season9-blogroll-1538446518768_400wand it did have some scary moments – not the zombies but the death that’s always imminent. I said a while ago that I was over The Walking Dead (and did check out for a while) but I can’t seem to quit it (though it isn’t appointment TV for me like it used to be). Ezekiel almost falling in to a pit of zombies is about as horrific as it got (and with a couple of near death experiences last season in the face of his insistent optimism), it did feel like the leader of the Kingdom was on borrowed time and that that rope might snap. But… *spoiler alert* it didn’t. Though I do know due to casting news that we can look forward to two major character deaths this season…I mean, “we” assuming I keep watching. The freelancing life is hectic is as hectic does, and I’m still about a season behind on every other show I’m remotely interested in – Atlanta to The Americans…but someday!

Speaking of Someday, I did mention that I have a new story Evening Ritual in The New Daughters of Africa and here’s a meme-ish-related tidbit, it actually began as a sorta ‘ghost story” (or an attempt at historical fiction, or something) inspired by women in a  photo I saw at a lecture I attended on the old sugar factory transport system (the locos). For the longest while I tried to make these two stories which existed in two different times fit together but they didn’t, and when I untangled them I discovered I had one story that with some work (and some helpful feedback), an editor thought worthy of publication in this seminal publication – and as for the original story, in that other time, I may find a way to dig that out yet. The other-other story I mentioned The Night the World Ended was inspired by last hurricane season in the Caribbean which was its own horror show. As I mentioned that’s forthcoming in The Caribbean Writer. Another tidbit, that story was one of those out of body writing experiences, so much so that when they sent word that they’d be publishing it and even as I was re-reading it, I couldn’t remember writing it, though I remember that I wrote it…if that makes any sense.

Most recent book finished is Faye Kellerman’s historical murder mystery Straight into Darkness which didn’t scare me (well, not in the way intended but given that it’s set at the pre-birth of the Third Reich more in the this is what can happen to a democracy if we don’t pay attention way) but did hold my interest.

I feel like I should end with favourite horror films or something to play this game right…but I’m not sure I have any. Does Michael Jackson’s Thriller count? No? Okay free associating off the top of my head, I’m going with Rosemary’s Baby, Cujo, and The Omen – none of which I’ll be watching this October – and leave it at that.

If you’re here for the first time, my name is Joanne C. Hillhouse. I’ve authored some books – I hope you’ll check them out (and if you already have, I encourage you to post a reader review to Amazon or Goodreads, or even here); and I offer freelance services – look me up if you need any of the listed services. Thanks!

 

Writers – What Not To Say

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received, when nervously entering the media and publicity fray as a published writer, was from my friend Gisele Isaac (who never nervously did anything). She said (and, yes, she wasn’t the first to say this but right then I needed to hear it) just tell the truth, then you won’t have to remember what you said. And she was right. But I don’t think these were the truths she had in mind. My morning chuckle.

Evie Gaughan

celebration-3301738_1920 Top Tip: You can do a practice run with some old teddy bears

When you write books, people are gonna want to ask you stuff.  It is very important that you LIE when answering these questions.  Lie through your teeth and don’t ever let them find out the truth.  As a helpful resource, I’ve put together a mock interview, a mockterview if you will, to guide you through  it.

  • Do you have a writing routine?

Yes. I like to see how long I can spend not writing before the guilt kicks in.  Then I simply distract myself with the kind of housework I wouldn’t normally do if my life depended on it… like cleaning the oven, descaling the kettle, washing my make-up brushes or, worst of all, clearing out THE DRAWER OF NO RETURN.

  • Where do you get your ideas from?

Right at the back of THE DRAWER OF NO…

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JHOHADLI – That’s What’s Hot

Gotta stay up on those stats to see what’s trending and what’s not, so you can blog better. So here’re my top posts for the past day, week, month, quarter and of all time. You can consider this your in case you missed it post. It’s a good mix of what I offer here on this site – dope! Tell a friend.

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Day Week Month Quarter All time
Student Exchange re Amelia at Devil’s Bridge Home Page Home Page Home Page Home Page
Home Page Student Exchange re Amelia at Devil’s Bridge Student Exchange re Amelia at Devil’s Bridge Student Exchange re Amelia at Devil’s Bridge BOOKS
Antigua and Barbuda Page 11 CREATIVE SPACE CREATIVE SPACE Tata and the Big Bad Bull by Juleus Ghunta (Monday Meme-ing) Island Living: a Response
CREATIVE SPACE Antigua and Barbuda Page 11 Speaking Intention BOOKS Writing, Editing, Workshop/Course Facilitation, and Coaching Services
Reviews – Musical Youth Performance Reviews Performance Reviews Queen of Katwe – *spoiler alert* – I loved it! BiO

A Book Back

books 2018My novel Oh Gad! will be six years published this year. If a book was a child, she’d be a first grader. Damn. I had high hopes when it came out too. It was my second act and my first full length novel after two earlier releases. My first to crack the US market. Hell, yeah I had high hopes. You would think I’ve since learned to manage my expectations, right? Nah, son, I still have high hopes. Against the odds. I’m hard-headed like that. #TheWritingLife ETA: Shortly after I wrote this, this happened (the author specifically referencing Oh Gad!) – 10 Female Caribbean Authors You Should Know And Add To Your American Lit Syllabus – life (and publishing) is full of suprrises.

Here’s an excerpt:

Before Nikki was a motley crew – curious expats mixed in with home-grown Rastafarians, academics mixed in with area farmers, grey heads and chinee bumps, and the odd politician. It was not only a larger, but a more diverse crowd than she had anticipated.

A part of her dared hope, as she glimpsed some of the Blackman’s Ridge project’s staunchest opponents in the crowd, that this could be the bridge between the warring factions. That was the goal, anyway. She’d tried to get Cam to come, but he’d scoffed at the very idea. “Make mosquito nyam me up all night,” he’d laughed. “For what? I don’t hold to all that ancestors crap.  Black people hang on to slavery too much, if you ask me. Is that keeping them down. I’m a practical man. I live in today. Anybody who know me, know that. For me to go up there would be a bold faced lie; and I never lie.”

The night’s programme consisted of a drum call and dub poetry. At midnight, the dawning of Emancipation Day, August Monday, when Antigua’s enslaved Africans got their first taste of freedom back in 1834, plastic cups were passed around, and libations sipped and poured out ritualistically in honour of these survivors and the many more non-survivors. Tanty had insisted on that and mixed up the “bebbridge” herself.

Everyone got a chance to enter the dungeon, in pairs and threes; some emerged quickly and unscathed, others were visibly moved by the experience of being stooped and confined in the small space.

As Sadie began her oral history of the dungeon, of slaves imprisoned for infractions, imagined or real, a reporter from one of the local stations, ignoring the mean look she shot him, stuck a recorder in her face.

“…many died here sick with their own fear as it come through their skin and full up the air ‘round them ‘til they were breathing their own stink,” Sadie said. “Not a lot of new air could get in ‘round the heavy door they had barring the entrance. Only tiny cracks leave back for insects to crawl through and torment them to the last. As for them that survive, there was madness or relief, relief that sucked at their fight and spirit…”

Nikki found herself seduced by Sadie’s words and her voice, as she spoke with previously unheard serenity and authority.

A noise cut through the night: A bone deep, belly full moan. It was Tanty, swaying, eyes tightly shut. Nikki reached an arm toward her, then hesitated.

Tanty’s moan cut through her. Not like a knife. Like waves, curling beautifully in and into her, relentlessly. Nikki sighed and even cried a little; the moment, the long moments, overwhelming her, filling her with both sadness and joy. She felt like she was being filled and emptied at the same time, like she’d eaten too much and yet not enough.

The scent of roasting cashews, which Tanty had insisted on, perfumed the night air.

Nikki had been concerned about fire spreading but then Audrey had, unexpectedly, donated a couple of coal pots which allowed them to contain the fire. And as the scent now wafted out, the moaning swelled, continuing to fill the gaps; a chorus for Sadie’s chronicle which ended with a roll call of Antiguan martyrs and heroes from King Court to V.C. Bird. Here and there, there were tears. As Sadie’s voice, hoarse now, faded, the drums once again took over, taking on the timbre of Tanty’s unabashed moaning.  The drum talk took them into fore day morning, as the Antiguans called those hours just before day break. It was then, in that in-between time, that Nikki came back to herself as if from a blissful dream. She caught snatches of it, of being inside the dungeon, of not being afraid, though shadows and light, ancestral spirits, danced across the jewel-like stones along the cave wall, Tanty’s voice reminding her that she was from their blood and they wouldn’t do her no harm. As even memory faded, Nikki opened her eyes to the sight of pale light now spreading across the sky, and discovered that she was leaning against Belle’s shoulder as her sister sat still as a rock.

*

Related Oh Gad! posts

Launch gallery
First pages
What the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books had to say about Oh Gad!
Oh Gad! Presents a Compelling Slice of Island Life (NPR)
Reviews
Antigua and Barbuda historical spaces in Oh Gad!
(Another) Oh Gad! excerpt
All Joanne C. Hillhouse Books

Site Updates

The only reading I’m getting done right now is this book I’m editing for a client, so bear with me on reviews of books in progress. But I have updated Blogger on Books. I have archived the review of the last book read, See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid, and moved in to the main Blogger on Books page a throwback review (meaning a review I did years ago on a different platform), Like the Singing Coming off the Drums by Sonia Sanchez .

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While I’m here, I can report that things are progressing toward the publication of my next children’s picture book (this past week I’ve been looking at the proofs with text and art work, and compiling lists for review copies – btw, if you review children’s lit Contact me and I’ll pass your information on to the publisher). That’s a genre I’ll admit I never saw myself working in though having The Boy from Willow Bend , a coming of age story, as my first published book had many branding me as a children’s book writer. I’m not. I am a writer who experiments in different genres and up until my first picture book (four books in) none of them had been specifically the children’s genre – and I only wrote that, initially, so I’d have something to read when I was invited to read to little kids; before that I leaned heavily on Anansi, because I had nothing but I didn’t want to blow people off. I’ve learned a lot since those days – about branding (define yourself for yourself or be painted in to a corner by others’ labelling of you…or, if you hate labels, as I do, just keep writing different kinds of things until the label refuses to stick), school visits (I had to take a step back to figure out how to better manage this but I think I have a workable model now, so Contact me if you want me to visit your school), and writing children’s stories (it’s not as easy as you think…way harder…and more of a collaborative process).

I also want to thank Dr. Valerie Combie, of the University of the Virgin Islands, who presented the first, to my knowledge, academic paper on my works during the annual Antigua Conference this August. The paper was entitled ‘Joanne Hillhouse’s Iconic Stance on Culture and Youth in Her Works’. I didn’t get to hear it (as I missed the conference this year) but I did get to read it (thanks to her for sharing it with me and for sharing her plans to publish an extended version of it). It’s easy enough to feel like you’re stagnating sometimes on your professional journey (I had a dream just last night in which I was engaged with a writer of note, one I actually met once in real life, but who actually gave me the time of day in this dream, and we talked about, among other things, this feeling of wading through water …and possibilities) – but just this simple act of my work being discussed at a literary conference is a far cry from the girl in Ottos, counting the stars and dreaming.

I can’t publish it (yet) but here’s a small excerpt from the publicly presented paper:

“As in her poetry and her prose, she uses realism to portray her characters.  In so doing, she creates credible characters who eat, dress, and speak Antiguan.  Characters with whom we can identify.”

I also wish I had been there to hear her read my poem Tongue Twista (published in 2010 in Volume 24 of the Caribbean Writer), with which she closed her presentation. Never heard one of my poems read by someone else before*…and that one is a tongue twister.

So, yes, I weather the storms and the droughts; I pray for more opportunities to grow as a writer and to sustain myself as a writer working; I hope for clear eyes and a spirit that ever craves travel and adventure (and, of course, feeds that craving as she can)… and to finish these books.

*Not true! Thanks, memory banks. I have had poems included in stagings of When a Woman Moans but obviously those weren’t about the centering of my writing, which perhaps accounts for the memory slip. I am grateful though to have been included in those presentations.

The Rejection Files

Stephen King, if I’m remembering correctly, kept his rejection letters on a nail/hook hanging from his wall and noted that eventually the rejections became too many for the nail/hook to stay up. Stephen-King-Quotes-Rejection (not sure how this holds up now that I’m reminded he was only 14 then but…) Of course, Stephen King eventually had his massive breakthrough (if memory serves, with Carrie,  his first published novel which his wife had to pluck out of the garbage when it was still in unfinished short story form) and never looked back.

While I’ve been published – six books deep

Books 2017

Yes, I can count! One is currently out of print and the other is working its way back in to print as I write this.

– I’m still a journeying writer out here – still trying to tell my stories while using my pen to hustle a living, and rejections still cut deep. The fact that I’m still out here still doing means that I’m not defeated, not by far, but I sure feel defeated sometimes. The Writing Life is hard on a writer’s spirit and sense of worth.

And writers are nothing if not masochists who hoard those rejections – even if we’ve burnt the letter or deleted the email, we still have it, stored somewhere to remind us that we ain’t sh*t. On the one hand, it feeds the hunger, on the other hand who needs that kind of negativity in their life.

Most rejections are robotic, form rejections. And we always say we want more (something to encourage us on this journey – I certainly felt that way when I learned that though it didn’t win the Commonwealth Short Story prize to which it had been submitted, Amelia at Devil’s Bridge had been plucked from the also-rans for publication in Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean Pepperpot1-524x800and when I saw that the story that became With Grace may not have won the prize for which it was submitted but it grabbed the judges attention enough for them to give it a detailed honourable mention…both stories went on to do quite well for mewith-grace). But sometimes I think the worst kind of rejection is the one that hints, hey you almost had it kid. I mean, sure, yay encouragement, but what do you do with that (especially if it’s something you don’t quite know how to work on). A recent residency rejection of mine read in part, ‘Your application has been carefully considered and received very positive reviews: “an excellent project from a vibrant writer”. The work samples were deeply appreciated. However, there were other outstanding applications in the pool with more convincing reasons to be at (name of residency redacted).’

Guess which part my writer’s brain fixates on (up to today, hence this post). The good showing, good going, Joanne can write part (appreciating that they took the time to provide such a detailed and kind rejection) or the damn, well, how do I overcome those odds part? I mean what could I have done to be more “convincing”? Because I can pull stuff up, just tell me what!

I kid but only partly. I’ve been at this since at least my teens (the writing part and the submission-acceptance undulating with the submission-rejection part) long enough to know that such is the cycle when you’re a writer out here trying. And I am a writer out here trying. This is why when a journal which published one of my stories in the past year referred to me as a veteran writer, I had to look over my shoulder to see who they were talking about – my spirit rejected it. Because (among other reasons) veteran writers don’t get thanks but no thanks, don’t call us, we’ll call you emails. They get please come and here’s your bag of money emails. I kid, but again only partly. I am not a veteran in my mind but it’s hardly the beginning is it (in age or experience). I don’t take any of my hard earned lessons or accomplishments for granted, I’m still out here not  only trying to crest the next mountain but looking for a little steadying of the earth beneath my feet.

But I don’t want to be ungrateful. I think of the parable of the talents, and this is what I was given, and as fortune would have it, it’s also what I love, so I’m doomed or blessed (depending on the day) to get up and write, pitch, submit, work-the-hustle, work-to-get-better, celebrate the breakthroughs, dust my self off from the rejections, only to do it all again.

writer

Like this…but with different hands… and fewer glasses.

Every now and again though…