Friday, January 17, 2014

Writers Are Like Shop Keepers

Writers on Writing: Julie Otsuka (The Buddah in the Attic)

Hemingway Trick for Writers

Writers on Writing: Chris Bohjalian

"The only reason writers publish, is to stop rewriting."

Containing the Endless Imaginatice Possibilities

from You Tube series Writers on Writing: Heidi Julavits

Another beautiful question:
"The imaginative possibilities are endless, so how do you productively limit your possibilities?"

Writing Advice: Know What You Know

"It's not enough to write what you know."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Guest Post: Best Little Bookshop in Provence, France

As a little break from the series of posts I've been writing, about the Island Fiction series, I thought I'd offer a guest post by UK publisher/writer Nick Gillard. He says Le Bleuet bookshop "...bucks all the trends. It really is the exception that proves the rule. But it works! And just shows anything is possible. Remarkable place." With the population of Provence at around 4.5million this makes me wonder why we couldn't support something so culturally rich in at least one of our islands. Or are there some? Know of a genuinely Caribbean bookshop with a sincere passion for reading and selling Caribbean children's books? Tell us about it! (See below for Nick's post about Le Bleuet.)
Unapologetically French

Librairie ‘Le Bleuet’, Banon, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, France.
Nick Gillard

If you were planning to open a bookshop these days I suspect even the new ‘business-friendly’ banks might raise an eyebrow or two. Certainly, you would be considered ‘high risk’ (i.e., don’t touch this with a barge pole) to locate the new shop in a small rural hilltop village, miles away from the nearest bourgeois metropolis. Surely that could never work? Well, yes it could actually. Bien sûr. A big MAIS OUIS in fact. For just off the main square of the beautiful Provencal village of Banon (perched 32 km north-east of Apt) lies Le Bleuet (or ‘The Cornflower’ to you and me) and it’s considered one of the best, not to mention successful, bookshops in Europe.

In fact, in the current bookselling climate of revolutionary change, it takes some time to absorb just how miraculous that last sentence really is. Banon is rightly famous for its goat’s cheese, charcuterie and alpine tranquillity but could it really sustain a four-storey bookstoreselling every type and genre of book imaginable?Parisian owner and former carpenter Joël Gattefosse has proved the impossible, building up his store from a small stationery shop (opening up in 1990) to a megalibrairie stocking over 190,000 titles and growing.  And when I say build, he has even applied his carpentry skills to the fixtures and fittings including his charming trademark tower of carved wooden books that stand proudly if not defiantly at the entrance. This bookshop really is a browser’s heaven/haven. 

The range is staggering and it would be quite easy to lose an entire afternoon here and still feel that much had been missed. There is a need to return. No real surprise then that bibliophiles, authors (Peter Mayle has held book signings here) and print pilgrims alike travel from afar to pay homage. As Gattefosse has been quoted as saying: "Whether a client buys Kafka in a cheap, paperback edition or in a deluxe edition, (what's important to me is that) s/he reads Kafka. I buy as many books as Ican... I don't care if a book has to stay in the shelves for three years (before it sells).” And indeed it seems the secret of his undoubted success lies not only in his highly sophisticated stock management system as much as in his simple love of books and book selling. 

Certainly, no visit to Provence can now be considered complete without a trip to this remarkable literary oasis. Indeed, the drive to Banon itself is reward enough. 

So booksellers around the world please take note. The whole ethos of Le Bleueut shows us that location doesn’t matter. If it’s good people will come. And in this day and age, that’s as useful a business mantra as any world weary Dragon could muster. Vive le difference! Vive le Livre!

Above All -

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Island Fiction - Story of the Series: Part 5

In order to compete for readers and for young people's attention, the boundaries of good sense seem to be more and more fluid, if they exist at all. With Island Fiction I believe we did not shy away from raw reality, and the kind of social honesty and emotional integrity that young readers crave. Writers were asked to take risks, to not be too goody-two-shoes.  These are  pre-requisites  for an audience of tween readers leaving behind the world of illustrated  books and ushering in realms of more abstract imaginings. I am proud of the IF balance between the appeal of age appropriate risks and parental concerns about both language rightness and moral righteousness. By my own gauge, we never compromised our impressionable audience with  distracting sell-out concepts or provocative ambiguity. The goal was to tell a good story in any genre of speculative fiction that would appeal to both boys and girls between the ages of 10 to 14. Each title fulfils that goal admirably and as a collection the six titles are a young reader's treasure trove of reading fulfilment.

The issue of creating universally appealing content  may still be a moot point, at least until we have actualised the kind of change in consumers that stimulates a sustainable domestic market for our writers and illustrators.

On this issue I will highlight two main points that summarise my own view, that I have not heard discussed much elsewhere, and that guided my selection process for the first round of  Island Fiction novellas:

1. Universality is achieved as an indirect by-product of being specific. The profound and intimate appreciation of any One thing, opens access to more of the All. The Caribbean author who tries to be universal by writing something that has a general appeal to many, fails in this regard. He or she is reaching outwardly instead of delving inwardly. By beginning right here and now, mining the unlimited potential that can only be accessed through a kind of grounded and authentic presence, a truly Caribbean writer taps  into a living book of infinite possibilities. The yellow brick road we are paving to anywhere else, must begin with each step only we can take, upon a single tile, that we our selves fashion and lay.  Authenticity is lost when we are reaching with 'over there' strategies and trying to reverse engineer market success. Appeal to a wide market cannot be something we aim for if we are wholly concerned with being true to the work that is ours to do, which really, resides solely in the consciousness of our own "backyard".

There are so many who  hear this as a restriction. They think I am suggesting  that we only and always express  local life, folklore etc. And it is exactly this misunderstanding that is symptomatic of the blockage to which I am pointing; the one that does in fact limit a writer from plumbing into something essential. A Something that may emerge as truly unique and as yet unwritten; if not in one shot, certainly through the practice of time and again.

As an example of honouring  specificity:

Jamaican, Michael Holgate in his IF title, Night of the Indigo opens with "Cold, cold, cold. That's how cold it was." Simple. Authentic. Universally accessible. This is typical of how many West Indian dialects would express a more British, frightfully or dreadfully cold night. We tend to leave off adverbs and exaggerate our adjectives. The lady is not obese, fat, or even very fat. We all know that she fat, fat, fat. We explored this as a way of developing voice and style that was unique to his accent and yet accessible to every English speaking reader. We also moderated its usage so that it was age appropriate, and mindful that our target audience includes reluctant readers who are best served when English is standard, and treated as their second language. Even the dialect styling is applied to dialogue in a moderate way that sounds more classically styled, and not too cumbersome for inexperienced readers.

"Yes, Marassa. I see you. Always day-dreaming nightmares in the middle of the day with your eyes wide-wide open. Hmm? And when you shut your eye to block the sight, is like gasoline on firelight. Hmmm? Fire-flood of visions burning your mind."

2. The other point on crafting work that has universal appeal rests in a special kind of trust and confidence. "Special" - I am not saying that it is elite access, but it must be identified and cultivated; and "Trust" - in the sense that  you believe your readers to be at least as smart as you are. None of us ever heard of or knew about Hobbits before. Nor Vulcan's. Nor Wookiees. Before I read books brought to the West Indies by the English colonialists,  I had never dreamed of forest fairies sitting on mushrooms, and I think it was America's Disney whose Darby O'Gill first introduced me to Irish leprechauns. Yet today, even  Caribbean writers, readers and book publishers do not seem to trust that we can not only  dream our own dreams, nor can we successfully export them ( at least not without commercial, cultural and creative compromise) as well. We do not yet embody the confidence of First World creatives whose dreams  unapologetically colonise consumers with their own, very specific perspectives. We need this kind of confidence if we are ever to emerge with a market of our own making. I am convicted that readers from Hamburg, Germany to Perth, Australia  need not have heard of Papa Bois or Soucouyants before reading Island Fiction's Escape from Silk Cotton Forest. After all, J.K. Rowling has already ably introduced them to Muggles and more.

Perhaps because so much of our storytelling wealth has come through the oral traditions of the calypso tents and the canboulay chantuelles we find ourselves now falling somewhat behind on the ever evolving conventions of publishing and printing, but neither should this practical concern delay or deter us. True, it is easier to make your own rules when you are at first, up to speed with the game, but today especially, we join publishing at a time in history when the field has never been more level.

As an example of the kind of confidence that creates entire new worlds and races:
Trinidadian  Francis Escayg, in his IF title, Escape from Silk Cotton Forest, does more than document, retell, or even re-invent our folklore. (Spoiler Alert Apology) - He conceives of a prequel to one of our most prominent folklore characters, Papa Bois and creates entire new races of Goans, Moongazers and more...

"Cream of the Crop calypsonian, Lord Intimidator, a dashing ocelot bowed to King Zar…Jubilant crowds thronged the square. They pressed the skeletons of the tattoo fens to their bodies…The Lagahoos - dreadful  wolf-like creatures, capable of changing into any form - had earned a place in Market Square…"

This favourite with both teen girls and boys begins with a hard hitting war scene and stages Escayg's original, non-human character Domino, in such a way that kids always root for him as with any other 'real' action-movie hero they encounter. 

What I love about Island Fiction, is that the books offer standard English with rich West Indian flavours. Our treatment  of dialect is in the line of a West Indian classic like Angostura Bitters. We use it wisely, trusting and relying on its effective potency. The way a dash of Bitters is just enough to make  a W.I. Bentley or a Ponche Creme more precious and identifiable  to our people as well as palatable to many other tastes far and wide.

Similarly, we endeavoured to balance modern risk taking with the old school values of  righteousness. On one hand, the West Indian sensibility is already one of worldly sophistication, consuming with the rest of the world a limitless range of popular culture targeting so-called "Young Adult" and "Adult" audiences. Yet there is here,  an unusual muddle of genuine and diverse religious concerns, outright superstition and/ or enslaved conservatism.

It was and is important to me, that Island Fiction has a vision of values that will increase clarity over confusion, that uses metaphors and storytelling conventions to tell in any number of ways the age-old story of good triumphing over evil.

(Next time, blog on for Part 6: Does IF's cinematic style scare away superstitious West Indian readers and writers too?)

Above All,
Happy Writing,

Friday, January 10, 2014

Island Fiction: The Story of the Series (Part 4)

I feel it's worth digressing a bit from the story of the series here, to say that I have been able to make  some observations about Caribbean children's book publishing, because I have  been engaged  as a published author, YA series editor and in the volunteer work as  Regional Advisor of the SCBWI- Caribbean South. ( In 2012 I handed over the chapter to a budding new Trinidadian children's book author, Marsha Gomes)

If I had a blue note for everyone in Trinidad alone who has approached me about getting published, I would be significantly well-off today. I have in fact shared such a degree of intellectual property and networking benefits that  one publisher, after giving a contract to yet another writer I had recommended,  asked why I didn't set up an agency and take a commission - which is typical industry standard.

My interest is not in talent management. It was and is no skin off my back to connect people and to advance the careers of those whose talent I admire, especially when they can present a current, 'publishable' property for review. Many of the beneficiaries do not even know that it was on my referral that their work was viewed. Every author/ illustrator gets published based on the value of his or her own work and talent. And its not even about opening the door, but firstly knocking on the right door at the right time. A referral can always help. So why talk about this behind-the-scenes benevolence now?

Because all this  unseen effort allows me to  observe some characteristics about us as a creative collective, that may be  responsible in part for the slow growth in the field of Caribbean children's book publishing, and therefore, may be worthy of our contemplation and discussion.

I notice that we tend to function in a secretly competitive way while masking our true desires and ambitions with talk about community. We do not seem confident enough as yet, to believe that when  it is earned because we've done the work, "what is mine can and will come to me" and if we are wholly engaged in our own creative work, from this stage of self respect we can safely elevate others, and by extension the entire field.

Some of the self-sabotaging attitudes I still encounter include a sense of entitlement. The frustration we feel on the journey can render us bling (like the typo, so it'll keep:) to the wealth of talent that exists in others and on the planet, period. By not seeing and valuing others we close ourselves to the nurturing we enjoy when we celebrate good / promising work. Also, at this stage of the process, writers remain grossly unaware of what's already on the book store shelf and in the library. No matter how cute, cool, mysterious or fun, your rendition of an idea is, it may already have been done. If you can do it better, you need to do a comparative study. Otherwise the manuscript may be best counted as practice on the way to the next.

Often the bubble of expectation is unrealistic and based on some presumed power, which many writers project onto  published authors,  series editors, literary agents and publishing houses. The real power is in meeting the market with a winning work - a formula that is as easy to crack as winning the lottery. So, be patient, and play - do the work, do the work, do the work.

Most writers who approach me for help have done no home work about the craft of children's book writing let alone the business of publishing. With so many search engines just a click away, this becomes more and more annoying as the years pass and the technologies advance, equalising access to information.

Sadly, many deem writing for children easy enough for anyone to do, that they will resist being critiqued, edited or receiving advice for revisions - as if there is no benchmark.

Some parents  bring their child forward with vanity publishing, in a premature effort to participate in what is a business proposition, book publishing. (Not that there aren't some children/ young people/ related projects worthy of publishing.) Artificial advancement of budding talent (of any age), circumvents actual growth and lowers the standard of an entire region of publishing. Building a career may not be sustainable through a momentary boost of inner circle support - unless one is willing to build a brand. And that is an entirely different kind of work from the work of writing.

After listening to his/her tirade (also necessary at times for growth), I may refer a hopeful author  to a method of  advancing themselves by doing the work. This  process is most easily enabled by spending TT$1. a day in the next year on an SCBWI membership. 1 out of 100 times, their eyes will glaze over as they begin with another round of griping and  slew of excuses.


Ask another author how many Caribbean books they have read to their kids, borrowed from the library or purchased as gifts and they confess - none. Some haven't  read current books in the field in any genre published in any market, and are depending only on a childhood feeling and memory of what kids'  books are like, in order to nourish their own work.

Who will be our readers, if our writers don't read? If everyone wants to get published and no one wants to consume the work that we produce collectively?

That brings me to Gerald Hausman which was where I left off in Part 3 of this series of posts ISLAND FICTION: The Story of the Series.

What I noticed about this prolific and accomplished author was that balance of confidence based on actual professional experience and humility, born of a sincere appreciation for the work.  Let me add, quickly that we have never met in person. It seems possible though, that slugging through months on end, author to editor, editor to author, back and forth via email and occasional phone call, that a sense of acquaintance really  deepens through the thick and thin of it.

- He showed up with a publishable work of exceptional, original quality that adds significant literary and market value to the entire IF series. His manuscript was very near final draft.
- He knew his way around contracts and, when it counted, had a representative to negotiate on his behalf. (If you don't have an agent, hire a lawyer. I did.)
- He was willing to be flexible with what he had come to expect for himself, in order to share of himself. By bringing his name and rich catalogue to the brand, Island Fiction,  he benefitted every  other author who would make the cut in the series.
- With all his experience and inspired talent, he considered feedback fairly and graciously.
- When the series was published I know for fact that he read the other five titles which he had no hand in, because he went on to write Amazon reviews for all the authors, whom he has never met.

For me, that's what success looks like - a fully engaged creative talent who has no doubt about his own craft and generously gives where he finds worthy effort.

So yes, there was always an option for me to include my own book as a part of the series launch, but the more I invested myself in the role of series editor, I appreciated my decision not to do so. This would  have felt gratuitous. I want my own YA novel, if it makes it to light of day,  to earn its way into the heart of a publishing editor who would champion my work, the way I was doing  for  the manuscripts I received. As much as I was able I wrote personally making a comment even to those I refused, because  I know first hand that just to be read, to be considered seriously can be a boost.

Over the course of 24 months, one by one, just the right stories and writers came to me. Each felt like a jackpot blessing. I am not saying IF is flawless, or above critique, but I do stand by the perfection in the selections I made.

In my opinion, IF titles are still  the best Caribbean tween novellas on the market for both boys and girls and based on my visits to schools, are especially loved by reluctant West Indian readers. Yet, despite the dearth of YA literature, and the favourable reviews, the series  has neither the commercial, nor educational  support to enable individual sequels, or additional titles and authors.

So what's up with that?

Well which is your favoUrite? Have you read one? Any? Offer a peer review that encourages Caribbean publishing, without patronising the work at hand.

ORDER NOW Macmillan-Caribbean
GET IF! series e-books

(Blog on next time for Part 5 )

Above All,
Happy Writing,

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Island Fiction - Story of the Series: Part 3

I began working on Island Fiction soon after  I founded the first South Caribbean chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, with my counterpart in Bahamas, Rosemarie Johnson Clarke,  simultaneously initiating the first SCBWI group for the northern Caribbean. While we share the same surname, we had not yet met in person, and are not related, that we know about. We enjoyed the "Same-Name Thing" as  a bit of encouraging coincidence.  

We came to the work with a keen awareness that our region is fraught with all kinds of challenges, not the least of which is the geography of an archipelago not easily bridged by affordable air travel. We believed, and hoped, that the fast growing internet  technology would serve to connect and grow our writers' communities in all the islands. Almost a decade later, the kind of interactivity we had hoped for is still not yet typical of our Caribbean culture; certainly not with regards to the mission of cultural content for entertainment and edu-tainment, that targets  children's and YA books specifically. The purely text book markets are far more lucrative; especially  if you can get into the sure-thing deals of education ministries. 

When I found and joined the SCBWI, (via snail mail) I received a number of  documents in my membership package, containing the kind of information I had acquired through arduous effort over a period of a few years . (Everything can be had electronically these days via I realised that the information I had accessed for about TT$1. a day I had paid far more for through trial and effort, attorney fees, industry books etc in order to negotiate my way through  my first publishing contracts and a budding career as a published children's book author.

I looked back at the investment of time, money and just the kind of sacrificial dues that go with pioneering territory, in the same kick-yourself-in-the -butt way of someone who, in the 20th century,  had been trying to reinvent the wheel. But I felt a kind of Finally! too. There was tremendous relief to have community, to network with counterparts around the world. And my efforts to share the SCBWI locally also stimulated  activity and community here that has been growing slowly, but consistently, ever since.

In tandem with launching the SCBWI at the National Library in Port-of-Spain in 2006, I presented the new, proposed 'tween' series for Macmillan Caribbean, and publicised our call for submissions. From Trinidad and Tobago I would select a maximum of two of the six and then I opened the search across the region and all continents. Very few submissions came in from the Leeward Islands, although their children's book publishing has certainly grown since then.

I was convicted that this would be a far greater contribution. More than publishing myself, I wanted to use this opportunity to do something unprecedented. Something that could potentially serve Caribbean writers and readers, and by extension, include illustrators.

I had determined, that to fully value and inhabit my role as series editor, I could not include my own title, but rather, would engage whole heartedly in the work of publishing others. And so, with the support of Macmillan, I conceived the series as it would be published: with six independent titles.

My dream has always been that each title  would  spark its own sequels and potentially emerge as  a series of books within the IF series. I still feel that this was the way to initiate not one but potentially six  successful brands to the benefit of Caribbean publishing and those who dream of being published and read by our young audiences.

This vision was in full alignment with the mission of the new, volunteer role I had taken on as the SCBWI Regional Advisor. The ultimate aim is to advance  and kickstart careers in the field.

I am particularly proud that as the series editor of Island Fiction, I selected authors and manuscripts based purely on merit, and was able to  successfully meet  two key goals:

1. The authors represent the diversity of our region: Jamaica, T&T, Guyana (W.I. continental), and U.S. Virgin Islands.

2.  Five of the six authors were  previously unpublished West Indian writers.

The series was to gain a significant boost of literary respectability though, as we worked hard to get Gerald Hausman who had already been successfully published by a number of established houses and had been a part of as many as seventy-somethign titles when his IF title TIME SWIMMER came to print.

(Stay Tuned for Part 4 of  Island Fiction: The Story of the Series)

Above All,
Happy Writing,

Monday, January 6, 2014

Island Fiction: The Story of the Series (Part Two)

The more I thought about it, the opportunity to create a series for young teens, was potentially something well beyond any one storyline that  a single author could conceive. My personal goals have always included contributing to creative community, and I couldn't approach this opportunity any differently.

In his brilliant essay "What the Twilight Says", (1998 Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Derek Walcott expresses something that feels akin to my own creative soul movement:

We knew the literature of empires…(omission is mine); and both the patois of the street and the language of the classroom hid the elation of discovery. If there was nothing, there was everything to be made. With this prodigious ambition one began.

In the early 90s, after a 2-year apprenticeship to the late media icon Dale Kolasingh, I conceived and helped pilot the first sports and leisure television magazine, Caribbean Sports Digest, with one of our living legends in sports media, Tony Harford. By 1996, there was a media void here that I could no longer endure. I dove headlong into a living thesis that was SUN TV: the first community cable broadcast in Trinidad and Tobago.

The soul movement within that championed the vision for SUNTV, came from years of contemplating the question:

What can I  give creatively that will be of service to others?

The sincerity of my desire connected with an ineffable knowing that I could trace back to childhood; a strong desire to see the Caribbean world in which we live reflected from the pages of children's books, and television programs.  It was time to make real, in whatever ways I could; to be a conduit, to whatever capacity I had, for the solution.  The concept of SUN TV arose into my consciousness and would not let me sleep.

Working as a well paid freelance producer, script and copy writer at the time, I was fully fed up of hearing the pat excuses that  industry "leaders" (top of the food chain gang) use to quell our need. Our need, both as cultural creatives and consumers, for local content. SUN TV began, with a little  capital investment and  whatever income I was earning as a salary and supplemented  as a freelance producer, I  willingly shared with  a trio of select crew and even volunteers who shared our passion. (The pay cut was worth that era of creative renaissance and invention. How many have such an authentic  story for their grandkids?!) Tossing aside the tripod and production conventions in which we had all been schooled, the idea of something more organic, and necessary, emerged.

Hosting workshops each Monday morning we practiced hand held rhythms and in-camera editing on mere domestic grade equipment. We were handheld with a devotedly experimental purpose, because we needed to move quickly; we needed to produce a lot of content in short periods; and we needed that content to have a dynamic sense of 'movement' without benefit of editing/ post production. We were out to explore and problem solve, not prove something about production values to win commercial jobs.

I took the  mission to heart because I had to find out for myself what is possible, what can be done, when The Work is more important than feeding The Suits. Some got it, totally. Many others poked fun at our efforts.

Mark Lyndersay found a happy medium between the two positions when he quipped in the Trinidad Express that SUN TV was, "adamantly local programming…a guerrilla video version of Hogans Heroes creating roots programming behind enemy lines."

In the field, our VJs were intrepid producer-directors, doubling as on-camera reporters/interviewers all at once, and together with our camera operators they brought back for broadcast, hours of indigenous content, that captured a youthful and cult-like following. The now defunct Trinidad and Tobago Television used SUN TV programming to extend their broadcast to 24 hours and for the first time ever, could  boast that they had increased their % of local content.

At that time,  the words 'Reality TV' had not yet been coined and imported to us through mainstream media. A much better name than SUN TV's "Organic Television" and "Sun Zen" trademarks. But still, we were as avant grade as the next guy. We were working on a level playing field with any number of new specialty start-up brands in First World countries - Comedy/ TLC etc. Our local media fraternity had neither the maturity nor selfless vision to ride the wave we had stirred. We were beat back by critics who commented only on the obvious deficits we endured - poor audio (beyond our domestic grade equipment control) and queasy camera work ( a new bold style that was changing the way creatives everywhere made TV and films. The Blair Witch Project would become a box office phenom the year after SUN TV folded.) With the exception of a few cultural entrepreneurs who were themselves initiating great start up ideas, the establishment was too busy crunching the numbers for control shares on cable conglomerates and media licenses.

In only two years, over 600 hours of purely Caribbean content were broadcast by SUN TV with the assistance of pioneers like Banyan's Christopher Laird (now Gayelle, The Channel and TTFILM CO), and musical giants (Ras Shorty;   Shadow; Denyse Plummer; Crazy; Orange Sky; Joint Pop and more)- who showed up with music videos, canned content,  and many who freely offered their time in studio for interviews and on camera 'play dates'. The hallmark of SUN TV was this open door, genuine, friendly, authentically West Indian style, that in my opinion has not since been replicated.

So, what's the connection between SUN TV and ISLAND FICTION?

It's in my blood, you see, this prodigious ambition.

Nearly a  decade later, when the opportunity came for a tween series, I already  had five children's books published. Any romantic illusions of what it might mean to 'get published', or 'be on TV' had long dissipated or been resolved within me.

Here was another chance to answer my soul's question. I could do the work and be of service.

I realised I had been learning to applaud the talent of others from a stage of self respect. This was something that needed doing, and that I  could do sincerely, and well.

In Caribbean children's book publishing, here was another irresistible void that called to me….

(Tune in tomorrow for Part 3 of  Island Fiction: The Story of the Series)

Above All,
Happy Writing,

Sunday, January 5, 2014

IF Series Editor makes Top 20 List

Honoured to be Listed in Top 20 Best Caribbean Book Blogs

Adrew Blackman, is the author of two published books (Legend Press): On the Holloway Road (2009), which won the Luke Bitmead Writer's Bursary and was short listed for the Dundee International Book Prize;  and A Virtual Love (2013) which deals with the issue of identity in this digital age of social networking.

Originally from the UK, Blackman spent six years in New York as a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

On his blog Andrew offers a free eBook detailing $250k worth of short story prizes and a free newsletter with updates.  He introduces his list of his TOP 20 BEST Caribbean Blog picks by saying that he moved to Barbados recently and has been keen to discover more about Caribbean literature from online blogs.  He adds, "It took me some time to search out the best ones, so I thought I'd share with you this list of blogs by readers and writers from the Caribbean."

Island Fiction Series Editor is proud to be a part of Andrew Blackman's list and to be in such good company.  

Also find here brief  and link below to Legend Press:
Independent Publisher: Legend Press 

Legend Press was set up in 2005 and publishes mainstream literary and commercial fiction. The publisher is now the most successful independent in 30 years to start up with no capital and runs a range of successful across-industry initiatives and joint-ventures. The team also runs Paperbooks, Legend Business and does consultancy work for Kingston University Press. One of the fastest-growing independent publishers, Legend Press is passionate about championing new and high-profile authors and ensuring the book remains a product of beauty, enjoyment and fulfillment. Legend Press was shortlisted for the 2011 Bookseller Independent Publisher of the Year. 

Island Fiction: The Story of the Series (Part One)

Historically, so much of what is written by West Indians is pedantic, journalistic, corporate, or emerges from the stiff upper lip of literary ambition. Since 2000, I began my career as a published children's book author, which unapologetically lodged me in the world of literacy, as a "primary school teacher-working-as-writer"; and in a publishing industry that targets children and their educators with  content focussed on 'readability' within sound social values and basic language structure. My ambition remains: to craft intellectual properties that are conceptually conceived, expressed through "low text density", and that can be  visually depicted by the illustrators whose art will attract young and immature/ reluctant readers. In general, my interest in picture books, and cinematic storytelling also fits well with the decade of work I already had under my belt in television production: GEMINI TV; AVM TELEVISION; SUN TV; CARIBBEAN SPORTS DIGEST and others.

In 2006, after I made a pitch to the publisher at Macmillan, (for a work that is still in progress seven + years later), I was told that my story was so hair raising, so compelling, that I was offered an opportunity to craft a series of novellas for the Caribbean tween/ teen market. My as yet untitled work is "sexy" in the way that the Harry Potter  series was originally "sexy".  Furthermore, it is entirely set in Trinidad and Tobago, does not depend on folklore to make it fantastic, and is so original I can truthfully claim that is based on direct experience and inspired by actual events.

The initial guidance was that I should write the first installment, then plan sequels which other writers could pen under my supervision and they would do so  in keeping with the premise, characters and style I set up. 

If you've read more than one of the the Island Fiction series you'll know that they are all different. Each one is a unique title, written by a separate author.

So what happened? Why did Island Fiction digress from that first conversation with Macmillan? How did the novellas become the first series of its kind in the region, and of the six books, to publish an  unprecedented five, previously unpublished authors from the diaspora?

(Blog on for Part Two tomorrow)

Beautiful Questions: Your Next Inspiration?

The "Thoroughly Conscious Ignorance" of BEAUTIFUL QUESTIONS: 
(adapted from my FB page Creativity and the Primary School Teacher)

Not all questions should be answered. And some questions just lead to other questions of a higher quality.

Beautiful Questions are valued by Creative Writers. We know that they are open-ended maps to the kind of inner exploration that leads to insights we could never predict or intellectually control up front.

Beautiful Questions, awaken our characters' inner QUESTS in ways that are unique not only to the fiction we craft but to our own  inner sense of being creative. 

In Macmillan's Island Fiction series, the authors answer the question of "self" for tweens and teens by presenting novellas wrought int he fire of many Beautiful Questions.  Each story begins the archetypal hero's journey that winds and twists through the inner life of its main character, so that the outward action of the story potentially stirs something deeper in young readers. 

Michael Holgate's NIGHT OF THE INDIGO did this so well, he earned a Moonbeam Silver Medal in the Teen Spiritual category the year the book was published. (2008, Macmillan)

                                                          BUY NOW : e-book available :
Book ISBN: 9780230030732
"As an allegory -- a story upon which another story rests -- this poetical novel shows us how a boy turns into a man. But it also shows how Marassa vanquishes fear of self to become a selfless practitioner of inner vision" Gerald Hausman (award-winning author)

Years later, in a market inundated with fantasy and speculative fiction, Macmillan's Island Fiction titles are timeless and still contemporary. I believe this is so  because of the work that crafted "Story" on the basis of Beautiful Questions, starting with the most basic: "Who wants what?"

In 2014, picture books are still modern, vital tools for cultivating creativity even for teens and adults because they quickly draw out 'high concepts' in a short time. Using both words and visuals addresses differentiate learning styles. Good picture books get diverse groups of people on the same page quickly. (pun acknowledge:)

On A Beam of Light (author Jennifer Berne and illustrator Valdimir Radunsky) tells the story of Albert Einstein's genius, highlighting "the thoroughly conscious ignorance" of a mind set on what I call "Beautiful Questions" like: What would the universe look like if I could travel through it on a beam of light?
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein
Purchase at Amazon: On A Beam of Light

In my own picture book, PINK CARNIVAL, Small Man (the precocious street name given to young boys in the islands) challenges his father's stereotypical thinking and draws even the youngest of  readers into the meaningful conversation: "BUT, is it really true?"  After he is told he cannot have a pink hat, which is only for girls, the son goads  the father with an age appropriate, playful I SPY thesis: pink is in Nature - a beauty that is certainly without bias; and all around us there are neutral, inanimate objects; further, Small Man finds pink to be culturally relevant in our vibrant Caribbean carnival. In this instance, it felt socially relevant for my target audience to resolve the conflict by having the father revise his point of view. This answers another Beautiful Question for young children: "Yes, I can positively impact the big, intimidating, adult world around me!"

As with adult work, themes are  important in our books for children and teens as well, and the art of asking Beautiful Questions, even when they remain unanswered may well become the basis for  your next inspiration!
Pink Carnival!

Above All,
Happy Writing,