Sunday, August 6, 2017

UP A Tree, With a Good Book...

Think of your young readers this way: up a tree, with a good book and worried that the sixth book in the series marks the end, because then what will he do! 
All 6 Island Fiction titles are available as e-books at: 

or jump to Time Swimmer by Gerald Haussman, one of my all time favorite teen titles:

Or why not kick start August reading with:
Night of the Indigo by Michael Holgate which won a Silver Moonbeam Medal for "Teen Spirituality"

Pictured: Battle of the Labyrinth, Percy Jackson Photo credit and copyright: J. Johnson

What to read when Percy Jackson comes to an end?
Now young Caribbean readers have a series rich in speculative fiction sci-fi, fantasy, magical realism. Check out all 6 titles of the  Caribbean's first-ever teen series with cinematic writing that even reluctant readers will ask, "So, when's the movie coming out?"
Island Fiction novellas now available in e-book format:

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Mari Popova reviews: Gabriel Garcia Marquez "Living to Tell the Tale"

Above All,
Happy Writing,

Read all:

"If you're going to be a writer you have to be one of the great ones…After all, there are better ways to starve to death."

Gabriel García Márquez (March 6, 1927–April 17, 2014) is one of the greatest authors of all time, and yet he had an unlikely path to greatness. His life-story is an emboldening antidote to the tyrannical myth that the crib is the crucible of creative genius...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Looking Up...

Above All,
Happy Writing,

I am convinced we are all on a spectrum from "Wounded" to "Recovering" Creatives.

Being creative and wounded seem to coexist as a part of our human condition.

Observation reveals that even as functional Creatives, we collude, propagate and inflict wounding on ourselves and other creatives.

Putting malice aside, (or perhaps even including it), if ignorance can be  simplified to the individual "ignoring what is within",  then who really can be 100% beyond its dark, sticky reach 100% of the time.

With this in mind, it is a  life-saving effort for sincere 'working' creatives to expect, even anticipate resistance.  And at least, to include the work of having to transcend it. The more insistent we are at our creative endeavours, no end of obstacles will arise both from within our own complex unconscious and outside; from others in our range of influence, and beyond.

SO, what to do with all these voices?

Nay-sayers will test your commitment. Give thanks, you will need the fortitude and perseverance.

Doubters will challenge your courage. Give thanks, you will find yourself on solid ground one day.

Critics will amplify your own concerns about your work. In gratitude, use their points of view to cover your blind spots, or affirm your clarity.

Haters will provoke the resurrection of authentic self-love; often just as you are sure Death is absolute. Celebrate that you are coming into your invincible wholeness.


If something 'sounds true' - feedback is a gift. Even if it's below the belt, focus on any nuggets worth sifting from the muck.


You will increasingly detect hidden agendas and respond maturely, learning to include your own best interest without sabotaging anyone else's.

As soon as you can, get over it and bless everything, because wrestling and defending wastes pure energy better invested into your passion.

Above all, keep writing, dancing, singing, cooking, inviting, playing, praying, deciding, experimenting, dreaming, photo-taker-outing, blogging, standing on your head, whatever…

One day, you're going to look up, and looking up you will be amazed at the clear and easy expanse of territory all around you. You will feel the ground you are standing on rise up to meet you and you will realise that you were always centred and strong in the midst of it all.

You will look up and know it is possible to applaud the successes of others from the stage of your authentic self-appreciation and you will know that you have recovered your own creative dignity
and see it as part of the inevitable human condition.

Your heart will open right where you are, and you will see where you  have come from and feel anticipation of the never ending spectrum of growth awaiting your exploration, and you will sense that the struggle was really an effortless ease, like breathing, and you will marvel at the miracle of co-creation that inspires us all.

And you may inspire someone just daring to look up...

someone wounded, and hopeful, recovering and doubting, just like you were.

And the nay sayers will still be nay sayers,
the doubters still doubters,
haters still haters

and they will all go on providing the manure and friction Creation needs to grow and flourish.

They may never even wonder "why" to answers you already know.


Friday, December 12, 2014

For "success-minded" Writers: Children's Book Insider

Happy Writing,

7 Things Editors at Children's Book Publishers Wish Writers Knew

Activism and Writing #2 : Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

Happy Writing, JJ

"Some lost their lives in their attempt to find freedom for others that didn't even look like them, but not because they loved the blacks, because they loved right….If you have a person enslaved, you have to be down there with the slave, to hold him or hold her, and that makes you bitter." Maya Aneglou

Writers read. Writers, read.

Above All, Happy Writing, JJ

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Activism and Writing 1: Susan Sontag

Above All, 
Happy Writing,

 "Can an unjust peace be enforced?"

Susan Sontag was an American writer, filmmaker, teacher and political activist, who published her first major work, the essay "Notes on Camp" in 1964.

The writers role in society is much more than ''getting published".

In this series I will share interviews with out spoken writers who  involved themselves  wholly, engaging in activism and politics.

"I was not looking for dreams to interpret my life, but rather my life to interpret my dreams."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Monthly Digest of Writing Prizes, from a Writer

Above All,

Happy Writing,


Andrew asks that you please feel free to forward his newsletter to anyone you think would be interested. If you're reading this and are not yet a subscriber, you can sign up for his free monthly emails - no spam, I promise! (and get a free eBook detailing $250,000-worth of short story prizes). Every month he publishes current writing opportunities with live links, (omitted here). So click on his link (Andrew Blackman, a writer's life) and sign up for easy access to his monthly digest of writing prizes and deadlines.

Writing opportunities: 
Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition
Prize: $3,000
Entry fee: $25
Word limit: 1,500
Deadline: 15 December 2014
Schlafly Beer Micro-Brew Micro-Fiction Contest
Prize: $1,500
Entry fee: $10
Word limit: 500
Deadline: 31 December 2014
MR Prize
Prize: $1,000
Entry fee: $15
Word limit: 8,000
Deadline: 1 January 2015
Jeremy Mogford Prize for Food & Drink Writing
Prize: £7,500
Entry fee: none
Word limit: 2,500
Deadline: 1 January 2015

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"What Makes A Book A Success?"

Happy Writing,


A year after my first book came out, a then-friend said to me, over dinner at an Italian restaurant on a cold winter night: "Your book was a failure." My friend didn't say it harshly--though perhaps it's no surprise that we are not friends anymore. He said it matter-of-factly, as in, the things you hoped for when your book came out, like selling hundreds of thousands of copies, or establishing yo…

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Commonwealth Short Story Submission due...

Above All,

Happy Writing, JJ

2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize Open for Entry

Writers have until 15 November 2014 to 
enter their short story.

Each year, we select five winning writers from five different Commonwealth regions who share a total prize money of £15,000. The overall winner receives £5,000, one of the highest amounts for an international short story prize open to unpublished writers. Regional winners receive £2,500.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize brings stories from new and emerging voices, often from countries with little or no publishing infrastructure, to the attention of an international audience. You don’t need an agent, just an internet connection to submit your unpublished story of 2000-5000 words.

Entry is free. Stories translated into English are also eligible. 
The closing date is 15 November 2014.

Submit your short story via the 
online application form between 15 September and 15 November 2014.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

To Swear, or Not To Swear….

Above All, 
Happy Writing,
With Macmillan-Caribbean's Island Fiction tween novella series - 6 titles of varied speculative fiction - our authors managed to bridge the maturity gap between illustrated chapter books and novels. They did so with craft, while staying true to our regional dialects and cultures. It is a bigoted thought (born of stereotyping groups of readers, e.g "all young people" and therefore the characters that speak to them), that reluctant readers/ YA readers everywhere or anywhere, will only read if the words sound like the everyday speech of some of their peers. Even the most worldly characters with the author's dutiful effort and soul wrangling to produce original work can be believable and compelling without swear words. The most interesting characters are not all hoodlums, vampires or teens of any sort who punctuate their sentences with profanity. Also, couldn't any one of these be drawn with contrary expectations of a kind of refinement or even poetry as in Gerald Haussman's Time Simmer? It would be far more interesting to have a goody two shoes slip one; and even that could be told and/ or shown with deftness of skill, which is bound to make for a more original piece of writing. When our standards slip and writing is so easy anyone can do it, what's the value? Make every word count. My 11 year old son and his friends were recently disappointed when the recent US movie hit "Hercules" felt it necessary to slip in an F-bomb near the climactic end. They were shocked in a way that broke their engagement with the story! Hearing them discuss that afterward was interesting. This moment, amidst all the fantastic special FX, and reference to 'classical myth', seemed to them the most forced and unbelievable. If the only believable way to express anger or disappointment is through swearing, then why waste time on writing or reading at all? Books to me have always been sacred, no matter the topic, so this kind of questioning and discussion is invaluable for those who sustain the industry and artistry of storytelling. From what appears to be a US-centric POV, the contemporary media exported around the world would convince us that certain things are "normal" - unless or until we realise they are selectively presented as ubiquitous. We have watched and listened as the US parlance of anyone in authority has moved from "politically correct" to a matter of "culture". I do believe that there is something quite effable in universal good sense. Rather than dictate, do let some intuitive Wisdom prevail. Writing, motored by an anxiety to please, perform and prove it's financial/ popular success, "sounds desperate" according to the kids with whom I interact. Talent transcends trends. Most talented authors want their writing to endure. And not only for posterity but for practicality's sake - to be useful beyond the self. The pervasiveness of poor taste for young people, (whether by caving into the lowest common denominator or by pushing the boundaries ever so gently with each generation), may be a symptom of the potentially awesome tool of self publishing; (read also, unfiltered, non-competing, self-edited publishing). Should any artist, like some politicians, create content driven by public polls? So many good questions to be asked and pondered by media and content creators. Personally, I like to be guided by Chesterton's thought, "It's good to be openminded but not so open minded your brains fall out."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Love Caribbean Children's Books and Authors? Give, or Give Yourself a Gift


Membership in the SCBWI is open to anyone with an active interest in children’s literature or media. We welcome aspiring and published writers and illustrators, librarians, educators, artists, students, dramatists, musicians, filmmakers, and others. A passion for children’s literature is our #1 criterion.
Your first year of membership in the SCBWI is US$95.* The annual renewal fee is US$80 

The Presumed Power of Publishers and Getting Published

Above All,
Happy Writing,

Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing

“The publishing industry looks a lot like these best-selling teenage dystopias: white and full of people destroying each other to survive.”

Click link: Read article here before my discussion:

I agree that this is apparently so.  

Also, I do think the conversation requires more finesse and maturity if we are to break the vicious cycles that enforce limitations. Everything is subject to change including any glass ceiling, especially if we loosen our mass belief in it.

Let's narrow this discussion down. It is in being specific that we may be most likely to access universally accurate assessments and solutions. And I will quote the article itself in fact to underscore my point:

"By blaming an intangible force, the (publishing industry) absolves itself of any responsibility…" brackets are mine

Exchange the words in  brackets and it is easy to see that this sentence points to a truth which means it must be objectively applied. It's  import to move from generalisations and look at case studies. 

I offer my story as one,  since I have a direct experience of breaking into print by an established publisher in the old days - as far back as 1998! smiles.

This came about due to a query letter and a submission package which I learned to do many years prior, at a picture book workshop hosted for local educators of all ethnicities, by the British Council here in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. 

My choice of publisher (Macmillan) was common sense - they were the most prolific publishers of anything that came close to Caribbean authenticity; and intuitive - I overheard a colleague speaking about a local  artist hopefully, maybe, fingers crossed, getting a gig to  illustrate a cover of a book for Macmillan Caribbean, and something or rather "Someone" in me,  stepped forward. 

For this Someone in me to take charge and act, was not  pure gumption. I see the momentum of  the present moment (opportunity) was met and fuelled by a life time desire and belief that I could and would contribute to the field of Caribbean children's literature. I was prepared too  because I had in my possession and had already  been shopping around town,  the mock ups  which were then rendered by an artist friend, Vanessa Soodeen. 

All of that was was a continuation of what I had always been doing - just following the creative urge of my life time vision. Each effort had not met with successful results.

Reaching out, I knew,  would require an investment of courage and cash - phone calls across the pond were expensive in those days, and snail mail quite uncertain.  I had just suffered a tremendous professional loss and wanted nothing more than to pave a new way forward. 

I recall, just printing full colour mock-ups was quite a to-do back then. A mix of colleagues, friends and family with colour ink jet printers, but no understanding or belief in the success of the venture, must have thought they were indulging a whim. (I am trying to remember the model of computer I had back then. I think soon after this,  the beautiful blue bubble of the eye-candy iMac made it home. This was definitely was  before the idea of lap tops ever came into our householders' minds.)

This is the state of a wounded creative soul: a mix of arrogant ambition and low self-esteem. Over time, with practice at risk taking we heal somewhat into a strengthened formula of courageous self-esteem  and humility.

In truth, I  never met anyone from Macmillan Caribbean until 2000, when that first book, an illustrated reader Go Barefoot, would make it into print. The acquisition letter however, I had received in 1998 in my mail box, not my inbox. 

Publishing is a long, slow, unsure business. I learned that up front. Now that everything is a click away, I see many of my peers with unrealistic expectations about success; how it comes and what it means, or not.

The way I think about the world, and my place in it, I realise has contributed to every step I have ever taken. I had set my true north compass in this way so it always resets itself,  even when the outcome is not seemingly favourable. ( I had shopped that same Go Barefoot manuscript mock up in Trinidad in vain for two years to a range of ethnically diverse executives, including those who 'look and sound like me',  before deciding to strike out globally! Since then I had a vision of what local publishing could be or become.)

Lucky for me, I  never gave any thought to the race of Macmillan's representative, nor to my own ethnicity, so when we did meet  this simply was not a factor into our exchange. His whiteness gave way to his kindness, respect  and genuine interest in following all the leads and referrals I could give him.

To this day, I have never met in person the actual editor who liked my work enough to give it the nod again and again so that I now have several published books and stories. With the advent of the Internet, we were eventually able to email from time to time and as far as I know, she is always looking for opportunities for Caribbean stories and their authors and is finding it difficult still as well. I never  spent time thinking whether she is white or not, to be honest. And when she had published an historical book for her county  in England and emailed me a clipping,  I got to see that the champion of so many West Indian authors was "a white lady".

When I selected novellas for Island Fiction, 4 of the 6 manuscripts turned out to be from people 'of colour', both men and women. As it turned out, none were Indo-Caribbean. I can only trust that no one  today will take this as a personal offence. Also, I refused manuscripts from authors in countries as far as Germany and Australia. I've no idea of their ethnicity. It wasn't a part of my listed criteria. Having received good to great critical reviews, I know that Island Fiction titles and all the amazing Caribbean titles and series in print today would be selling better for a number of real reasons.

Having  kind of  a marketing budget, of course,  helps. And that's not something I,  or many W.I. children's book authors that I know of,  have enjoyed.

There are in addition to any concern of racial/ cultural bias, so many real issues and only some of which are in fact changeable. My intention is to prompt discussion, which may over time, bear more productive fruit for us all.

Some of issues of concern to consider:

+  Geographically based here in a small market, we can't drive to the next state or county to promote our  books and increase publishers sales which excites publishers about doing business with us. 

+ Also, in reading cultures which tend to be in "First World" cities, when an author reads, or shows up people buy their books. One US children's book author I spoke to, who has almost 100 published titles says confidently, " Whatever books I take to a school, I know they will sell." This is because of the market, and because his books are good.

+ Islands safe guard their markets. If they promote Caribbean work at all, it tends to be their own books. We need to link the markets and support each other to expand our  $-worth.

+ Because so many booksellers are either directly publishing for schools or are financially linked to local text book publishers there is no need, other than mere conscience, or genuine interest in championing quality and creativity, for  them to care. 

+ Changes in markets are driven by need and consumers demand - of which there is little to none in terms of the paying consumer. The demand for publishing is coming from our authors. How many actually spend their own money on local/ Caribbean books may be a worthwhile survey.

+  Our own people don't read for pleasure and the tendency in global markets is to see 'Third World' or 'Developing' as in need of  literacy aid. This model for injecting revenue in the industry has its own culture and depends on grants of some sort, UNESCO, CODE, corporate CSO agendas etc. etc. 

+ Meanwhile retail merchants are importing for public consumption, more sophisticated content than we can now generate in print/ film/ music etc Local sellers rely on the mass media marketing of these import brands to make sales in our domestic marketplace. 

+  Even if the US or Australia say diversifies, and  I have been noticing there has been a tremendous increase over the last six years, we will have "people of colour" yes, but not necessarily West Indian people of any or all colors. We will still be consuming the dream media of others - their life styles, values, accents, points of view. 

And Caribbean people - of every creed and race - will remain invisible to themselves.

+ Most publishers prefer to invest in competing for the sure-thing business of our territories  -  Ministries of Education  nod on a title, book, author or series   guarantees a big print run. Local, regional and international publishers for the Caribbean tap into this lucrative market and have become somewhat lazy. There is little or no interest in marketing an individual author or series of books unless it gets 'picked up'. 

+ Retail merchants in small markets have been moving away from manufacturing and production. Observe the market place, chat with your elders who remember T&T 20+ years ago  and together, you will see the trends for yourself. Why? It's headache. It's hard to do. It's sustainability is not guaranteed like a 'foreign' imported brand. The risk is greater. 

+ Creatives have to stop crying victim and start talking business if we are to ever solve our publishing and media dilemmas. If we are to ever move from broadcasting and reselling imports we have to understand our markets, and find retailers who value the same things that we do.

+ Or reinvent the models - which new technologies make possible but the hard work is still laid out for you to do. No help at all now it becomes a real do-it-yourself model. You outlay capital, risk errors in production, and have to pay to shop and market your own work. 

+ It can easily be reasoned that in our  islands, that our own people at every level of consumption, are the greatest restrictors  of Creative growth. With our growing self awareness and increasing self esteem we have come to expect more. We have begun to recognise the contributions which we feel entitled make,  but we cannot speak the language of the industry's business yet and we must begin. This is especially true for children's books, if not wholly true for great works of contemporary adult literature, poetry and academia.

+ Many people quite simply, earn their livings off our picture books/ illustrated readers/ novellas.    Many, if not all who look like us, (whatever that means for such a diverse people), will care about our work for that reason alone. How likely is this or that book  to sell? Would you put your money and time where your ache is to support your own work?

+ Some markets, like ours, sadly to say, are notoriously stingy. Not just now, it's a cultural thing we will need to shake in order to make any real progress. I remember overhearing a conversation with our late, great Boscoe Holder and my brother. He said that when the foreigners came to see his paintings or hear him play the piano and they were impressed, they paid you for your art, your talent. But locally you will live, work and die and the most you may get is a pat on your back.

+ An established publisher is a business with larger sums of capital than an individual, but they are also on a budget - they publish x number of books and they hope  y % of those are big enough successes to make all the other risks they took worthwhile. This is at least one of the reasons why some books are marketed more heavily by traditional publishers.

+ Self-Publishers today will be getting a taste already of how difficult it is to find a market, sustain a fan base and build up sales conversions. Direct experience of this 'work' will increase an understanding. We are moving back into a time of 'trusted curators'. This is what an editor and an established publisher represented and will again.

+ The clamour of those who want to be seen and heard and feel deserving and find themselves disgruntled because of repeated rejections, are simply writers beginning the work of writing and getting published. The query letter, the slush pile, rejection letter, editor's notes - repeat. This is the editor's mill that we should risk and….

We're in the best of company:

Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” A rejection letter sent to Dr Seuss. 300 million sales and the 9th best-selling fiction author of all time.

After two years of rejections stating that her fiction would have no readership, Reilly and Lee agree to publish The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo, launching the career of the best-selling author Judy Blume. Combined sales: 80 million.

140 rejections stating Anthologies don’t sell” until the Chicken Soup for the Soul series by Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen sells 125 million copies.

Louis L’Amour received 200 rejections before Bantam took a chance on him. He is now their best ever selling author with 330 million sales.

It is so badly written. The author tries Doubleday instead and his little book makes an impression. The Da Vinci Code sells 80 million.

These great case studies, with success far, far greater than mine, had only one real advantage that I can admit to wholly: 

They did not buy into the BELIEF  that these rejections were because of something, someone or anything they couldn't change.

Click here for more: Best Sellers that Got Rejected

Of all the island populations, T&T, one of the more literate, sophisticated and affluent Caribbean groups, reads significantly less for pleasure. Until we get over the race card we won't solve the issues that when confronted, will go a long way in making positive changes for us as authors, illustrators, publishers. Our antidotes have been in academia, import culture. We must be willing to buy what we write only as long as we like it and learn to be honest about that both ways i.e. not withhold out of petty competitiveness and not support out of disingenuous tactics. We can begin to create an actual market with paying- and staying - power which we will require an open-ended number of excellent tomes to serve each generation. 

Support, from a stance of self respect.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Picture Book Review: Anna Carries Water

I've had a number of requests to review Caribbean books. As a matter of sifting quality through the quantity, I will review only traditionally published books that have gone through the editors' mill.
If your self-published book has had significant sales, send a query letter first.
Above All,
Happy Writing,

Synopsis: Anna fetches water from the spring every day, but she can’t carry it on her head like her older brothers and sisters can. In this charming and poetic family story set in Jamaica, Commonwealth Prize-winning author Olive Senior shows young readers the power of determination, as Anna achieves her goal and overcomes her fear. 

I Review: Anna Carries Water (Amazon link):
Anna Carries Water is an attractive picture book for adults to read aloud to under fives anywhere, especially those who are ready to dip into the wider, multi-cultural world. Some Caribbean readers (the illustrations place Anna in rural Jamaica) may find the text more stilted than rhythmic and the illustrative style too naive, but I think both text and illustration go together well enough to capture the West Indian innocence of our rural village life, that many parents and grandparents across the diaspora, may find pleasingly nostalgic. Anna Carries Water may prove difficult for inexperienced readers to enjoy independently at first, but children who spend little time outside the home, pre-school or Kindergarten may become inspired by Anna's daily walk to collect water, and be willing to line up and mimic her journey. What kids wouldn't want to have a go at balancing buckets of water on their heads? Regardless of culture, the challenge of accomplishing difficult skills and overcoming our illogical fears are universal concerns for kids and their interested grown ups everywhere. JJ

Friday, April 4, 2014

Bloomsbury Spark - "No Agent" Submissions Accepted

Thanks for this tip from Marsha Gomes, new Regional Advisor for SCBWI Caribbean South.
Join today to keep abreast of all things in children's book publishing. ("children's" includes YA and teens). SCBWI Membership Benefits
Above All,
Happy Writing,

"No Agent", Unsolicited Submissions Accepted at new imprint, Bloomsbury Spark 
(click link for more Bloomsbury Spark FAQs)

What type of books is Bloomsbury Spark acquiring?

We are acquiring teen, young adult, and new adult fiction across all genres, including but not limited to romance, paranormal, contemporary, dystopian, science fiction, mystery, thriller, historical fiction, and more—from writers all over the world.

Do I need an agent to submit?

No, you do not need an agent for your manuscript to be considered by Bloomsbury Spark.

How can I submit? What are the submission guidelines?

We are currently accepting English language manuscripts between 25,000 and 60,000 words. Please send your manuscript (in Word) to one of the following email addresses. Please do NOT submit your manuscript more than once or to more than one email address.

For submissions in the United States and
For submissions in the United Kingdom, Europe and
For submissions in Australia:
For submissions in India:

Friday, March 28, 2014

TIME SWIMMER is Soca Mom's April Teen Pick!

Above All,
Happy Writing,

(click link for other Soca Mom's April Selections)

After failing the Jamaican primary Common Entrance exam tempts suicidal thoughts,  ancient mythologies combine with historical fiction to whisk our boy-poet and light bearer Luke across the Caribbean Seas of Time on a fantastic journey that ultimately returns him home and restores his sense of self. Readers of all ages will be asking, "When's the movie coming out?"

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

SI Leeds Literary Prize : Check your eligibility

Above All,
Happy Writing,

Multi-ethnic Women Writers/ Based in the UK/ Check Eligibility for your unpublished manuscript

The SI Leeds Literary Prize is the prize for unpublished fiction by Black and Asian women resident in the UK aged 18 years and over.  A biennial award, the 2014 Prize was launched at the 2013  Ilkley Literature Festival – submissions can be made online from 1 December 2013, with a deadline of 31 March 2014 using this link:
Submit to SI Leeds Literary Prize
The prize aims to act as a loudspeaker for Black and Asian women’s voices, enabling fresh and original literary voices from a group disproportionately under-represented in mainstream literary culture to reach new audiences.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Caribbean Christmas Children's Content

If you're unpublished or just feeling generous enough to want to see/ share your work in print, this opportunity may be worthwhile. The rates aren't great, and the rights are broadly in the publisher's favour, but you do retain copyrights. I've cut to the chase here and only copied the payment schedule for you. Do click on link for full details. Caribbean Reads call for Caribbean Christmas content for kids is well thought out and promises to be a credible publication.
Above All,
Happy Writing,

CARIBBEAN READS CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Caribbean Christmas Children's ContentChristmas beach background


    CaribbeanReads and Jaxon Photography are committed to recognising that the work done by creative writers and artists is valuable. In this light we are offering a small compensation for material that is published in the book.
    • Stories and articles: 3¢ per final word count, $10.00 minimum
    • Poems: up to $1.00 per line; $10.00 minimum
    • Activities and recipes: $25.00 flat rate
    • Artwork: $100 for artwork accepted for the cover. Rates for other artwork will be determined based on the size and relevance of the material and will range from $25 to $50.
    • No other royalties will be paid
    • Payments will be made within 30 days of publication.
    • Currencies are in US dollars.
    You will be listed as the author or illustrator of your piece.  There will also be a listing with a brief biography of contributors. You’ll also receive one copy of the book. Additional contributor copies will be available at a discounted cost.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Up A Tree, With A Book: inspiration for writing and keeping books in print!

Want inspiration for your next YA novel? Do you measure success by your book's ability to secure passion and commitment in your audience?

Think of your young readers this way: up a tree, with a good book and worried that the fifth book in the series marks the end, because then they're hollering, "Now what will  I read!?!" 

Some kids today have everything at their finger tips so we tend to believe only in the stats that say books are competing with other games and technologies, including books of the e-kind; Kindle etc. 

BUT - no one ever wanted to smell their flat-as-glass screen when a new text was being down loaded. Even when we're laying down with the digital box, who really snuggles technology the way we do when we have the texture and weight of our latest literary conquest in print, and in our hands, propped on our chests or leaned on our thighs? There is flesh and bone, blood and heartbeat in holding an actual tome. 

I've personally never seen technology inspire kids to climb trees, to find Nature's nooks so as to selfishly savour  that which is totally wholesome.

And that, my friends, is why I am a die hard. I believe books in print will always be kewl, awesome sauce and wicked bad.

Above All,
Happy Writing, JJ

Inaugural Burt Award YA Caribbean Lit Announced!

Finalists for Inaugural Burt Award for Young Adult Caribbean Literature Announced!
We are proud to announce the finalists of the inaugural Burt Award for Caribbean Literature. The Burt Award for Caribbean Literature was established by CODE – a Canadian charitable organization that has been advancing literacy and learning for 55 years – in collaboration with William (Bill) Burt and the Literary Prizes Foundation. The Award is the result of a close collaboration with CODE’s local partners in the Caribbean, The Bocas Lit Fest and CaribLit.

The shortlisted titles are:

·     Island Princess in Brooklyn by Diane Browne, Jamaica (published by Carlong)

·       All Over Again by A-dZiko Simba Gegele, Jamaica (published by Blouse & Skirt Books)

·       Barrel Girl by Glynis Guevara, Trinidad and Tobago (manuscript to be published)

·       Musical Youth by Joanne Hillhouse, Antigua and Barbuda (manuscript to be published)

·       Abraham's Treasure by Joanne Skerrett, Dominica (published by Papillotte Press)

·       Inner City Girl by Colleen Smith Dennis, Jamaica (published by LMH Publishing)

Congratulations to the finalists! And thank you to all writers who participated in the inaugural Burt Award for Caribbean Literature. The first, second and third place winners will be announced on Friday 25 April during the NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port of Spain. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Drawn to Magical Realism

Previous  Stabroek News article about this IF author and title:

This article is reprinted here with permission granted by the editor of Stabroek News, Guayana and the correspondent, Jairo Rodrigues. The photos are shared with permission from the author Maureen Marks-Mendonca.

Stabroek News - 
September 14, 2013

Maureen Marks-Mendonca : Drawn to Magical Realism

Over the years Maureen Marks-Mendonca has decorated her name in a number of fields in the professional world. Writing fiction was not one of them until recent years and it was never her first love.
She was keen with mathematics and loved to tell stories in the schoolyard but when it came to putting something down on paper, she preferred diagrams to words. Of course, once she entered the professional world it was very obvious that it would be impossible to do anything without writing.
 Maureen Marks-Mendonca (right) autographing a copy of her book for a fan.
Maureen Marks-Mendonca (right) autographing a copy of her book for a fan.
As a diplomat, she wrote endless country and regional reports. As a government economist she was tasked with writing weeklies, monthlies and quarterlies for both Guyana and Jamaica, at different times. As a business economist she was required to produce frequent periodicals for international clients – and this was when she finally ‘rediscovered’ her calling. “There was so much competition in my sector that only the most entertaining periodicals got noticed. Mine got noticed,” she said.

Maureen has found that writing requires a lot more footwork than she initially expected. The impression most people have is that the writer writes and the publisher does the rest.
“These days, publishers only like to market celebrity books, or the books of established authors,” she said. “Everyone else is expected to get out there and do their utmost to promote their own books. The inner world of a novelist is a magical place, and many authors would prefer not to be bothered with mundane stuff like getting on the circuit and making their presence felt.”

She revealed that she has three more novels inside her “bubbling”, and ideally she would just like to lock herself away somewhere and get them out of her system, but she also owes it to herself to ensure that her first “child”, Legend of the Swan Children, stays in circulation and that people continue to eagerly await her next work of fiction. “To tell you the truth,” she said, “once I get out there to do readings, book fairs, promotional shows, I get fired up, and I end up loving the interaction between me and my readers, or potential readers.”
Maureen was born in Queenstown, Georgetown in what was then British Guiana, in Elizabeth II’s coronation year. She recalled having British neighbours, seeing horses pulling carriages and nannies walking their charges to the Botanical Gardens in the afternoon sun.

Growing up in Queenstown
Maureen said Queenstown at that time was a wonderfully mixed middle-class community, fairly quiet except for a neighbour’s geese, which would chase any child brave enough to pass that lot.

“Looking at the way Georgetown has grown, it’s probably hard to imagine Queenstown as a suburb of the city proper, but that’s what it was. Georgetown was spotless in those days; a true garden city. As I recall, municipal workers cut the grass on the parapets every week and cleaned the gutters and trenches every month,” she said.

Her “proud parents” were adamant that Maureen and her four siblings would have better opportunities than they themselves had. Music and spirituality were the binding forces that still keep them together even up to this day. Her father, Ulric Marks’ favourite t-shirt carried the slogan, ‘The family that prays together stays together’, to which Maureen was inclined to add, “The family that plays together stays together too.”
Her mother, Stella Marks is deeply religious and so she brought her children up in strict accordance with the “good book.” But in every other way, she encouraged freedom of thought.
The family came from a background of music and so the children were all tasked with learning to play a musical instrument. Maureen said her finely-tuned family kept weekend in-house concerts with their piano, violin, cello, several guitars and a pair of bongo drums. “Marguerite, Michael, Francis, Fay [her siblings], and I had a lot of fun making sweet music.
We played formal classical pieces, Latin music, light jazz, African and Indian music, anything we heard on the radio and liked. I’m sure we drove some of our neighbours slightly crazy, because those were also the days when every window in every house would remain open from morn til night…”
The neighbourhood had a lot of children and the backyards were big; fruit trees abounded – genips, dunks, jamoons, guavas, star apples. The children basically lived in those trees, stuffing themselves with fruit. Simple paling staves separated the yards, so it was easy to slip through a hole in the fence, without parents or nannies or helpers knowing.
“People looked out for each other. Our friends’ parents were ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ and had the power to discipline us if we stepped out of line and we didn’t mind, because we all felt like family,” she said.
Not only were relations between neighbours harmonious, but apparently between the animals as well. “When a lot of families were migrating in the mid-60s, I remember a neighbour two doors down left their dog, Gippy, with us,” she related. “They had a cat too but no one in the neighbourhood wanted it, so a friend of the family came to take it away. That cat stayed in hiding for three days until the coast was clear. Then, Gippy went over, found the cat, and in the strangest procession I’d ever seen, walked that cat over to our place, trailed by a pack of curious dogs. They were best friends you see, and had grown used to sleeping together. We kept the cat.”

These days the author is building a teepee in her back yard.

Legend of the Swan Children
Maureen’s first novel, Legend of the Swan Children revolves around Alejandro Vega Van Sertima, a boy born with mysterious abilities in Alma, a sleepy Spanish village on the Caribbean Sea. Known among the Waspachu by his clan name, Alex Springfeather, he lives a simple but happy life – but this all changes when those around him start to mysteriously disappear, including his mother whom he holds dear.

Alex, in order to solve these mysteries, gets caught up in an adventure through the South American jungles. The people he encounters are either there to kill him or help him and he finds himself in a constant battle with himself.
Magical realism is the genre of writing that Maureen says reflects through Legend of the Swan Children, although some people prefer to say fantasy fiction. “I don’t write about far off lands populated by mythical figures,” she said. “I like to set my scenes in cities and towns that appear quite average, and let the magic unfold in the form of characters that don’t seem to be bound by the same natural laws accepted by society, or events that defy explanation.”
It was Trinidadian literary critic, Debbie Jacob who described Maureen as a ‘magical realist’ in her book review in the November 29, 2009 issue of the Trinidad Guardian newspaper: “This is a magical story set in Guyana that reminds me very much of the magical realism written by the great Guyanese writer Wilson Harris.”
Maureen recalled that her editor Joanne Johnson had asked the question. She said: “I had to admit that I hadn’t read a Wilson Harris novel since my youth. Much later, in my early thirties, I did find myself appreciating another great magical realist – Latin American writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But at that time I was firmly embedded in the world of commerce, hiding the storyteller beneath the folds of facts and figures. I rather think that I was drawn to the genre because… that is who I am.”
Legend of the Swan Children, although targeted at youths, is finding its way into the hearts of people of all ages. Her current work-in-progress, however, will definitely target the adult and young adult markets.
Maureen revealed that the inspiration for her novel came from the disenfranchised youth she worked with in her spare time and the lead character, Alex, came to her in a dream. She revealed that Alex has within him the same hurt, undying spark of innocence, and dogged faith she encountered in the orphans, street kids, and refugees at her workshops over the years.
Legend itself was actually written twice: once for a very special teenage friend who had lost her way, and the second time to satisfy the commercial needs of the publisher, who required her to “lose 12,000 words”.
“I’d like to think that I’ll continue to grow, as a writer, both in style and content, so that when I pen my last book, I’ll be able to sit back in satisfaction and say, this one is pure beauty. No publisher would want to change a single word or phrase.
“I think after I give birth to the last of the three ‘children’ currently in gestation, that is, the three novels I spoke of earlier … I’d like to focus on short stories. The book I’m currently working on is in fact… twelve short stories about love. There is something very appealing about saying all you have to say in twenty pages or less. There is a Zen part of me that yearns to show its pithy face.”
When she is not working, she spends quality time with her friends and family. She is happily married to a man she describes as wonderful and respectful enough to let her be herself. Apart from writing, she satisfies her creative urges by playing the classical guitar.


Great for reluctant readers Island Fiction's six titles target "tweens" ages 9 to 13. IF is a reliable series  for parents and teachers to present to   young Caribbean readers when they are ready to  leave behind illustrated books and be ushered into the worlds of their own imaginations. The cinematic  IF style leaves kids asking, "When will the movie come out?" Even kids who just want to "book travel"  in the fantasy genre, will feel refreshed by Island Fiction's West Indian flavours.