Sunday, 29 June 2008

Flaky friends in paradise

The courier company that handles my mail is acting up again. Just like over Christmas, the mail has backed up and I haven't reveived a single piece for the month of June although the statement shows at least five pieces of mail on the account. My advance cheque for Café au Lait is in there somewhere, I believe. So are my mother's gardening magazines and probably a couple of catalogues, as well as a refund cheque from a company that discounted some items I bought from them. And here's the intriguing bit: there's a mystery package somewhere in there that weighs more than 2 pounds.

I suspect the mystery package is from a buddy who oh-so-nonchalantly asked for my mailing address recently. If I'm correct then he's right now wondering what kind of flaky friend I am who doesn't even acknowledge mystery packages. Friend, I'll get it, along with the rest. I have faith oozing from my pores. No, seriously. I will get it. There's a new, sweet, pretty young guy helping with deliveries on my route (the regular guy is on some kind of leave) and he's going out of his way to solve the mystery of my errant mail. He told me that he counted eight big bags of mail sitting in the office... waiting for Allah to intervene.

To all the people who have romantic notions about life in my lovely corner of the world, all who think said life is a beach out here, I have just three words: Welcome to paradise.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

One Year!

Today marks one whole year since I started this blog, and how the time has flown! I created Wordtryst on June 24th 2007 but did not make it public until around two weeks later. I added the ClustrMap widget late in August and it now stands at more than 17,000 hits, with close to 1,600 views of my Blogger profile page! Cool, even if you discount the fact that many of those hits/views were... ahem... mine. :)

It's been great. Thank you to all who visited, all who commented, all who edified and entertained me, who have been walking beside me on my journey to publication, and all who just dropped by to say hi. Your support has been wonderful! With the release of Café au Lait just two and a half months away, I'll continue to post about the ups and downs of this odyssey - with maybe the occasional rant thrown in!


Thursday, 19 June 2008

Reading right now: Green Dolphin Country

My friend D. knows that I have a special affinity for dolphins and whales. Whenever we see each other she almost apologetically hands over a bag of goodies, all dolphin- or whale-themed, that she collects in the intervals between our meetings: books, movies, trinket boxes, jewelry... She's a wonderful friend, she is, and I consider her one of the blessings I have to count regularly.

I haven't been to the library for awhile, and tonight I looked at the bookshelf in desperation, wondering what I should re-read. And there, there, I found not one but two of her gifts! I must've put them there as I unpacked the last bag of goodies and now they've popped up just in time to fill my need.

Green Dolphin Country [1944], a prize-winning novel by English writer Elizabeth Goudge [1900-1984], was made into a movie which won an Academy Award for special effects in 1948. According to one reviewer on Amazon, "It's the story of 2 very different sisters - the beautiful and joyful Marguerite, and the stubborn and intelligent Marianne, who both fall in love with the same man. He has gone to New Zealand - the book is set in the 1800s - and he writes home to ask to marry the sister he loves, but in a drunken state, puts down the wrong name. When she arrives she has to deal with the hardships of life there, while he tries to come to terms with his mistake, and the fact that the sister he loves has entered a convent." Apparently, it's based on a true story.

Next in line is a good old Mills & Boon romance, Island of Dolphins by Lillian Cheatham. Have to admit that it's been a w-h-i-l-e since I read one of those. This one is set on a tiny Caribbean island, much like the one where I live and where I've set my first novel, I suspect. I'll begin with this one (intriguing as the first sounds) since it's a little book and I'm in the mood for something very light. I'm also curious to see how the Caribbean is portrayed by this writer.

Oh, and that cover image at the top? Nothing like the one I've got, but it's the only one I could find.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Baby mama? BABY MAMA? WT*?

I published this post a few days ago, then deleted it because I'd like to stay away from politics on this blog, to focus on books, writing and writers, on publishing, occasionally on the beauty of my island. But sometimes it's hard to keep a discreet distance from ugly realities, as evidenced by my last post on the state of crime in my country.

Now it's the elections brouhaha in the US. I read about the latest Fox News (Faux News? Fox Noise?) obscenity earlier this week and, thanks to Kevin over at It Only Seems Random, found a terrific post by writer John Scalzi on the issue. I'm really grateful to the Internet, and to bloggers in particular. I'm continually reassured that there are indeed Americans of all races and walks of life, many, many of them, who are as horrified as the rest of us at the bigots* in their country who continue their desperate, pathetic stranglehold on their outdated prejudices. (*I'm not implying that the US has a monopoly on bigots; they're a common species that thrives even in the most hostile environments, much like cockroaches.)

And while I'm at it, here's a link to another great article, this time by Tim Wise who so eloquently examines an issue that has appalled me - the assertion I've read on blog after blog, in hundreds of comments in a number of threads, that women who supported Hillary Clinton will not support Barack Obama unless he makes her his running mate, and in fact will either not vote at all or vote for McCain. Don't get me wrong. I understand their hurt and disappointment. And people are free to vote for whoever the hell they want, or not at all. But to hand the election to McCain based on this kind of rationale? What kind of lunacy is that?

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Cry, the Beloved Country

The title of Alan Paton's classic novel has been haunting me of late. I seldom blog about the runaway crime situation here in Trinidad. The horrors are too rife, piling one on top of the other everyday, shocking past the point when you think you can't be shocked anymore, escalating beyond the point where you thought it couldn't get worse.

I'm sitting here at five before midnight, blogging when I should be editing novel number two, and a gunshot rings out. That particular sound was virtually unknown to this nation up to a decade or two ago; a loud explosion used to mean that someone's old jalopy was backfiring. Not anymore.

A week or two ago it was the rape and murder of an eight year old child. Days ago it was the murder-suicide of a couple who lived mere houses away. I didn't know them, but that is irrelevant. A man across the street was gunned down yards away from his home two years ago. The secretary who worked at a school where I taught was strangled and tossed over a cliff by a male acquaintance a month or two ago. A guy who used to belong to my hiking group was found knifed to death on a coast road. One of my old students, a lovely, joyous girl, was found strangled in a ravine just a year or so after she graduated high school. And every day, almost, the body count of 'gang-related' or 'drug-related' murders soars. One night recently there were six murders. Six. Few of the murderers are ever brought to justice. And no wonder - the few witnesses to murders who have the temerity to testify for the state tend to meet grisly ends.

All this on an island with a population of less than a million and a half.

This used to be a beautiful valley. I still go outside in the middle of the night and look up at the stars, gaze at the moon, savour the touch of cool night breeze on my skin. But now I am watchful and wary. My reveries are tainted by the expectation of gunshots shattering the night. By blacked out police helicopters and blimps that circle the skies for hours, the choppers sometimes beaming their ferocious spotlights down on the houses. What do they seek with that bright beam? Robberies, kidnappings and murders in progress? Criminals skulking in the shadows of fences?

We used to call this land a paradise. Poets have written so many paeans in its honour, from the classic calypsos to the patriotic songs that now seem to recall an imaginary place. I think of The Mighty Sniper's Portrait of Trinidad, Gregory Ballantyne's Calypso Rising, David Rudder's Song for a Lonely Soul with nostalgia and sadness.

The chopper is circling now. How did we come to this? Where do we go from here? Whatever happened to Paradise?

Sunday, 8 June 2008


My agent sent me an e-mail yesterday with one word in the subject line: Check. Seems my very first check (cheque) is finally ready, and I should receive it in a week or so since it has to wend its way from Manhattan, New York to MyTown, Trinidad.

It's a tiny check. The advance is so small that after the agent deducts her commission and a few hundred for expenses there won't be much left.


In terms of significance, this cheque is a heavyweight. It's my first for fiction, and it marks the transition from 'aspiring' to 'author' for me. I'm gettin' paid, people! Seeing my novel on Amazon was a high, but seeing the cheque will make it... real.

Why is it a reality check? Because of its size, for one thing. The stats indicate that only tiny percentage of fiction writers can live off their work; they all have supportive spouses and/or other jobs that pay the bills. We all hope to beat the stats but the industry wisdom is that you shouldn't give up the day job until you've got a backlist of four or five royalty-earning novels under your belt.

The check underscores another reality: the snail's pace at which things happen in publishing. Take my timeline, for instance.
  • September '05: Snail-mailed a handful of queries to agents. Agonizing wait while SASEs trickled back to me over the next four months.
  • January '06: Discovered Sent out a bunch of e-queries to agents. Got several requests for partials and one for a full.
  • March '06: Agent with the full called to offer representation.
  • April '06: Signed with agent.
  • April '07: Got 'the call' from agent; novel sold.
  • October '07: Got draft of contract.
  • November '07: Editor called; ready to discuss changes.
  • February '08: Received signature copies of contract.
  • May '08: Advance check mailed to agent (days after I e-mailed publisher and asked 'What's goin' on with da check, people?
  • June '08: Agent e-mails that check is ready.
  • September '08: Proposed release date of novel.
  • September '09: First royalty statement due. (A blogging buddy of mine received her first royalty check recently - for the staggering sum of 9 dollars!)
Friend E. confided in me that he was thinking of writing his memoirs and making some quick money. Ha. I handed him a check. A reality check.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

June writer: Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler (1947-2006) was born and raised in Pasadena, California. Her father was a shoeshiner who died when she was a baby and her mother worked as a maid in order to support the family. According to the shy daydreamer who was later diagnosed as dyslexic: "I was writing my own little stories and when I was 12, I was watching a bad science fiction movie called Devil Girl from Mars and decided that I could write a better story than that. And I turned off the TV and proceeded to try, and I've been writing science fiction ever since."

She described herself as "comfortably asocial—a hermit in the middle of Seattle [where she moved in 1999] —a pessimist if I'm not careful, a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive."

Butler's most popular work is Kindred, a time-travel novel in which a black woman from 1976 Southern California is transported back to the violent days of slavery before the Civil War. Kindred was repeatedly rejected by publishers, many of whom could not understand how a science fiction novel could be set on a plantation in the antebellum South. Butler stuck to her social justice vision - "I think people really need to think what it's like to have all of society arrayed against you" - and finally found a publisher who paid her a $5,000 advance for Kindred.

She remains the only science fiction writer to receive one of the vaunted "genius grants" from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a hard-earned $295,000 windfall in 1995 that followed years of poverty and personal struggles with shyness and self-doubt.

Her awards:
  • 2000: Lifetime achievement award in writing from the PEN American Center
  • 1999: Nebula Award for Best Novel - Parable of the Talents
  • 1995: MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant
  • 1985: Hugo Award for Best Novelette - Bloodchild
  • 1985: Locus Award for Best Novelette - Bloodchild
  • 1985: Science Fiction Chronicle Award for Best Novelette - Bloodchild
  • 1984: Nebula Award for Best Novelette - Bloodchild
  • 1984: Hugo Award for Best Short Story - Speech Sounds
  • 1980: Creative Arts Award, L.A. YWCA
Excerpt from Kindred
Online story: Bloodchild
Online story: Speech Sounds
Online story: Amnesty
Online story: The Book of Martha
NPR Essay on a World without Racism
Democracy Now! interview: Octavia Butler on Race, Global Warming and Religion
New York Times obituary