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 www.scbwi.org). 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,
JJ




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