Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Despatches: from the year of putting my children's books on Amazon as e-books

Here is the cover of my new children's e-book. Gorgeous illustration by Rachel (Wade) Moss, eh. Magical, as a friend said.

Yes, we are still working to get it up by Independence. Ebony goes to an Independence Day Parade instead of a ball. This will be a delightful present for any little child, especially your little relatives overseas.

 I'll let you know when it's available.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Despatches: from the year of putting my children's books on Amazon as e-books

My last post told the story of Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune, now on Amazon. What is fascinating is that I remember the days, not that long ago, when some of us would sit around at authors' meetings asking each other, ‘Do you know how  you get a book onto Amazon? in awestruck tones, as if it were the promised land. We would send out scouts to find a way (assign it to someone to investigate). Well it is not the promised land. However, we are way past wondering. I have a friend who can do it for me. How wonderful is that, and how quickly technology has moved that mere mortals can now access this place.  So from time to time my posts will tell you about  the latest book I have put on Amazon.

Remember what my plan is: to put as many of my books on Amazon as I can, between those that were published under the auspices of the Children’s Writers Circle, self published (one), and done by other publishers where the copyright has reverted to me. It’s a place for them to be since I can't afford to reprint them. I just discovered that others are doing this in other countries, so I am not alone.  Oh yes, I’d love  my books to sell,  love to make lots of money (sound of hysterical laughter), be discovered by MGM lounging on Amazon while drinking a soda, or more appropriately,  coconut water from the shell. Ok, hush my children, you have to be from our vintage to understand. Hint: in the olden days in Hollywood, starlets  were discovered . . .

The next/latest book is in fact a new story. It’s called Ebony and the Auntie of the Starlight, a Caribbean Cinderella. So yes, it is a sort of kind of version of Cinderella.  Ebony is, however, abandoned, no one knows who she is.

"Once upon a time in an island with deep green forests and rushing rivers and waterfalls, there was a little girl, called Ebony. Ebony lived in a children’s home, which is like an orphanage, called Ebony House,  in the district of Spice Mountain. Ebony had lived there from she was a baby. Nobody knew how she came to be there. Nobody even knew her real name. That’s why she was called Ebony, after the name of the home.
Ebony had one possession, and that was a tortoiseshell hair clip.  Perhaps it could have been a clue to who Ebony was, but nobody knew anything about the tortoiseshell clip either."

Ebony has a bit of a hard time from  some real 'bad-mind' people who pretend to befriend her , taking her out of the children's home (led by Mrs. Redeyeness  - you know how she stay, right), using wood stove, coal pot and sad iron (because of high electric bills it seems) . . . Does her prince come along? Well yes, he does, ‘some day my prince will come’ and all that. And in the end Ebony becomes a modern miss with some modern ideas.

The artwork! Oh the artwork! It is gorgeous! It’s done by artist, Rachel Wade. I just  love her work and you will too.


The plan is to have it available by Independence as that’s when Ebony meets Alfred, at the big Independence parade. I’ll keep sending you despatches.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Can Cordelia find fame and fortune again - as an e-book?


The story of Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune:
There are people who will swear that Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune is the best book I’ve ever written. One person says to me after each of my books comes out, 'I like it, but it’s not Cordelia’. Cordelia, is admittedly, without being too modest, a really good book. It was first published by Heinemann Caribbean in 1990, along with other children’s books. It won the Book Industry Association of Jamaica's best children’s book award. In 1994 it was chosen by Harcourt Brace in the USA to be part of a collection for school libraries in the USA, called Passports, and appeared in a gorgeous hardcover edition. This was a publisher to publisher agreement, so no, I did not get rich. That version was translated into serious Standard English. The original was in English anyway, with just a hint of Creole structures (except for the folksong, which after all, is a folksong). In their version it was interesting to see that the folk song, ‘Cordelia Brown whe mek yu head so red?’, became ‘Cordelia why is your hair so red?’ Oh, my goodness! Nonetheless, it was pretty cool to have an American edition,( which it seems can now be found on Amazon without its cover?)

Possible symbolism/meaning in Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune
 Many of my children’s books contain a bit of a folksong or reference to a folksong. This is because I want our children to recapture the magic of the folksongs I loved as a child; to preserve our culture. ‘Cordelia Brown whe mek yu head so red?’ is one of my favourite folksongs. 

 Even when we do not plan it, there is meaning. Stories come out the author’s reality and often may be related to the time in which they are written. Cordelia is being teased, gets the idea of leaving home for fame and fortune from Puss in Boots, (although that story is not called by name), in the hope that once she has achieved success, no one will tease her anymore.

 Cordelia reflects the time when people were leaving or had left, and I wanted to reclaim the idea that fame and fortune need not be found only abroad, or in ‘foreign’, as we say. This is not in any way to diminish the reasons for that migration, nor negate the fact that Jamaicans have always migrated, and can be found  all over the world. But perhaps at that time I may have realized that that migration might have lasting effects for our country. Family and friends left and were missed. Cordelia, then becomes the magical link for us all, even when we cannot change the way things are.
 The old lady she meets has been all over the world looking for fame and fortune. She lists the countries, Cayman, Panama, etc. This  reflects the Jamaican higglers (traders), mainly women, who were then going all over the region/world and bringing back goods to sell. These were/are intrepid travelers, many of whom, to their credit, made enough money to create a new life for their families and themselves.
One day at a workshop someone said to me, ‘This story is about your younger daughter, isn’t it?’ I felt as if  I’d been punched in the stomach. That’s when you know a nerve has been touched. I was in shock! I had always said to prospective writers in workshops, ‘Know yourself, know your passions, etc.  because it will come out in your writing’. And yet, I had had no idea. No idea at all. My younger daughter, with light brown hair, lighter hair than her sister or any of our immediate family, was being teased.  In an ex-colonial territory, swept up in that moment of ‘let’s be against anything that remotely reminded us of the past’, that was enough.  She would weep over being teased at school. And we could do nothing about that. You just have to learn to deal with that sort of thing.  And she did, eventually, just as Cordelia finds she can. I had no idea that it hurt me so much! So Cordelia is the flag bearer for all children who have been teased for whatever reason.
I was invited to the Miami Book Fair  to be part of its Student’s Encounter Programme and read Cordelia in a number of schools, where she was well received, and we sang ‘Cordleia Brown whe mek yu head so red?’ exactly as it is. ( I can’t sing, but it seldom matters in situations like this). Cordelia went on to have many reprints here in Jamaica, even when the publisher went out of business and the copyright reverted to me. However, the thing about printing is that you have to be pretty sure that you can sell most of your print run if you are to make back the money you put out. Bookstores usually ask for 6 or 12 copies maximum, at a time, which  cannot a print run make. If you go through a distributor, which solves all your distribution challenges, it’s 50% right away (overseas, I think it may be even more). So we are caught in a spiral or vicious circle of economies of scale - small print runs, therefore high print costs and selling prices higher than overseas books, small disposable income amongst the buying public. Gone are the days when the libraries would take enough copies for all their outlets – they have no money. And now with a falling dollar, everything is tight, tight!  But how could I just let Cordelia wither away into nothingness.

Some of us had put books on Amazon. I had put on a collection of adult short stories, just to see what happened. Nothing much has, except for some lovely reviews, for which I’m very pleased.  In spite of that, I was playing around with the idea of putting a new children’s book on Amazon since one of the effects of Amazon, as we all know, has been the challenge to bookstores and publishers. But I was stuck in my mind, stuck in this massive change that has overtaken books and publishing, like a deer caught in the headlights, as they say; or perhaps in the Caribbean, like a crab crossing the road with car lights bearing down on it. Will it reach the other side? Then one day, my friend, Hazel Campbell said, ‘Why don’t you give me Cordelia and let me try to put it on Amazon?’ I was astounded! I had not thought of that. ‘You think you can do that?’ I said. ‘I’m going to try,’ was her reply. And so she did! And that’s how Cordelia is on Amazon.  I had the flash drive with Cordelia for about a week before I uploaded it. Fraid like what! Afraid of what? Oh please, it’s technology! And I view technology like I did Math at school. What you know, do; do not venture into the unknown.

And now Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune has a new life. I have received many good wishes and one great review. (Thank you, thank you!) I have not fooled myself into believing that I’m going to make money from this book on Amazon. But I think you will agree with me after reading Cordelia's story, that she must be located somewhere, where those who want her, the 'one-one' copies, can find her. Of course, I’ll be using her as a test case for others to follow (books and other writers also).  I think I’ve decided to put as many of my books as I can, where they can be found. And who knows, if we all have enough books on Amazon from the Caribbean, they might see us in this enormous ocean of books.

Marketing is,  of  course, the challenge! I put the info on Facebook,  and I sent it also to all the people in my address book, and felt somewhat embarrassed, because you really should not promote yourself  to your friends and acquaintances in our Caribbean world. So 'boldface'! (One step from being out of order). So I have not solved the marketing aspect of the whole Amazon business. Therefore,  maybe it will really just be a place for my books  to be. We’ll see.



Saturday, June 14, 2014

Despatches: Memories of Calabash, 2014


Calabash was, as usual, a feast of emotions. You come away from Calabash full of writing and determined to write, even if you don’t. But yes, I have, in spite of my Capricorn spirit which insists that work should be completed before everything else.

The last time we had Calabash and I did my blog on it, I focused on things said that I thought could be applicable to children’s literature. This time I think I’ll just share what moved me, what contributed to that gorgeous feeling of fullness to overflowing. And I must declare that regretfully, I only stayed one day – Saturday.

Because I so admire the craft of writing and writers, just being in their presence can make me joyous. (Yes, I know I’m one too, but I don’t seem quite mysterious enough to myself). So to hear and see Mervyn Morris - our poet laureate - and Velma Pollard, although I know them personally, is still a delight for me. Hearing Zaidie Smith -  a feast of words. I love the voice in her work, the voice in her voice.

In the following, if anything is a direct quote, it would purely be by chance. Consider everything reported speech, and anything not quite right, my fault, and not that of the writer to whom the comment is ascribed.

Christopher Farley read from an adult work as well as from his YA novel. I don’t know if this means that YA has made a transition to Calabash. Probably not. We’ll see. He said kids need to see books with children of colour. We’ve been saying this for so long, and yet . . .

Karen Lord from Barbados pointed out that ‘choices lead to change and opportunity, and are the cutting edge of chaos, but even chaos cannot overcome choices’.  Fascinating! I’m still thinking that through. It’s as if this should after all be quite obvious, and yet there are depths still to be fully understood - implications.

In the interview with Salman Rushdie he spoke of  ‘fiction as a journey to the truth’;  ‘man as a story telling animal;  helping us to understand what sort of creatures we are’. And then I remembered our own Derek Walcott saying at another Calabash that  'in the Caribbean we still tell stories, which is what the human heart craves'.

What is it about Calabash? It is in itself magical; the venue combined with the auras of the people? No, I don’t think  it’s the camaraderie, although that is certainly there. It’s a quietness, a resting; even with the music drumming and throbbing into you, it’s quiet and restful. The sea, the breezes at Treasure Beach? Ah the sea! Perhaps that is it. Just writing about it brings back the desire to write, to create.

So this is a short post. Perhaps the effect of  football World Cup.
And now I’m back at Calabash and I’m just going to upload my photos. Perhaps I should take way from Calabash that work does not have to come before everything else. About time!

Friday, June 6, 2014

E-books on the near horizon: E is also for emotions

I was astonished to see that more than a month had passed since I wrote my last blog and I wondered what on earth could I have been doing. Wasting time?  Surely not! Frittering away my energy and emotions?  I have come to  realize that my energies may not be taken up by work alone – they can also  be taken up by just the thought of work; or by any other emotional circumstance, even if it seems to be a good circumstance. Therefore, I am relieved to report that, upon investigation, I find that my energy/emotions have actually been taken up by worthy endeavours.

So, emotion # 1): My friend Hazel Campbell has managed to reformat Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune, including the illustrations  for uploading to Amazon. That in itself is enough to take up a lot of  my emotional energy, as I realise that my plan to put most of my books (where the copyright has reverted to me) onto Amazon, might be about to materialize. One hopes that the presence of a number of my books on Amazon might generate more interest. Yeah, right! Anyway, publication date might be next week!

Emotion # 2):  I reviewed and sent off another potential e-book, Ebony and the Auntie of the Starlight to the artist. Publication date? Hopefully some time in July/Aug as it has an Independence theme.

Emotion # 3): I located and reviewed another story, Daughter of the Time to Come (once slated for publication, but the publisher stopped doing children’s books and eventually went out of business) located the artist who did the sample artwork and he is still willing to work on it. That publication date is slated for later in the year, probably about Heroes’ Day. So far, that’s all a lot of emotion, as you can see. A lot for me! I like my emotion in small does.

Emotion # 4): Things I Like was interrupted  - still have one illustration left to paint, then try for sponsorship, because I really think that it will be good for  early childhood. Emotions floating around in the air with nowhere to settle.

Of course, we have to have a new story for Christmas - blog, or e-book. Can’t keep redoing the old one, Once Upon a Starlight. (Is it the same character as the one interacting with Ebony above? Yes, it is.) This, however, happily  is not yet a fully formed emotion.

Emotion # 5): hot on the heals of all these potential e-books, I’m seriously thinking also of transforming The Ring and the Roaring Water ( the second of the Time Travel books) into an e-book. We’ve found  what could be the last pre-press copy, so have to check it.

Then I was asked to do a writing workshop for children at Franklin Town Primary. The children responded very well indeed; lots of interaction.  The best story was written by a boy! Wonderful! Well plotted, exciting! (We ignore the potential of our boys to our peril! But we know that, don’t we).  Anyway, this has fired me up about not only doing readings, (which is what we writers usually do), but also writing workshops in schools.  Emotion # 6.

Emotion # 7): I got a wonderful review from a writer whose work I respect, on my book of adult short stories on Amazon, The Land in the Purple Evening, as follows.

Review from Amazon
A delicious collection of short, short stories that makes reading feel like an unhurried afternoon sitting and talking with a good friend over tea. The gently told stories are all rooted in interpersonal family and community relationships looking at respect, love, duty and emerging awareness of life through the eyes of a child or an ingenue. I am not an education professional but would suggest that the material is suitable for age 13 and up.

Lovely, eh! Love the ‘delicious’. It makes me feel like I could just dance all around the room, in the air.  So delighted by it, I’ve decided to  seriously compile another collection and have started reviewing my other adult stories. That’s sort of lovely as well as daunting. I found one which was published by Bim & Kyk-Over-Al years ago (which I hadn’t even realized, and just the other day, so to speak, out of the blue, someone asked if I was the same Diane Browne who . . .she photocopied it for me) and  I just had it retyped – before it faded completely. So the thought of compiling that collection extends the emotion.

It really would seem that I’ve been very busy indeed, and even if it hasn’t all been actual pen to paper, brain engaging computer work, it has been hectic emotionally, especially when we all know that the e-book plan might not work at all. ( Amazon is not the real solution!)

 Come to think of it, it’s a wonder I have enough emotion or energy left to write this blog.

And then this last weekend was Calabash. But that’s another blog, another emotion.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Despatches: great news for Jamaican/Caribbean literature: recognition and prizes galore

Obviously the big news for children’s writers is the result of the inaugural Burt Award for Young Adult literature in the Caribbean, announced at the Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad and Tobago. The winner of the first prize is A-dZiko Simba  Gegele (Jamaica),  for her book All Over Again, published by the young publisher, Tanya Batson-Savage of Blue Moon Publishing/Blouse and Skirt Books.  As I have said in previous posts, I love A-dZiko’s style. It is wonderfully lyrical. She is also a storyteller and a poet, so that she actually seems to perform her stories.  Congratulations to both A-dZiko  and Tanya. The other winners were Joanne Hillhouse (Antigua), second, for  her unpublished manuscript, Musical Youth, and  third,  Colleen Smith-Dennis (Jamaica), for her book, Inner City Girl (LMH Publishing). Again, I have liked this book from it came out; it is full of suspense. That two Jamaican books were in the top three is great. It’s not great because it’s  promoting Jamaica in the Caribbean, and the world, although that has merit; it’s great because it’s  promoting Jamaican literature  to Jamaicans. Perhaps for  them children’s/ young adult literature  will have some currency now.  At least, I hope so.

And as if that's not enough, late breaking news (after the first draft of this blog was written), I see in the Sunday Observer today that Jamaican, Diana McCaulay has won the 2014 Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize (administered by Bocas Lit Fest) for her work in progress , Loving Jamaica. So this is even  greater, or our cup runneth over. Congratulations to Diana, whose last book, Huracan, I really love.

Then right here at home, Professor Emeritus Mervyn Morris  is our new Poet Laureate, the first  after 61 years.  Congratulations to Professor Morris who clearly so  richly deserves this recognition.  Moreover, for us to have this post again after an absence of 61 years, suggests that we are once more going to take this aspect of literature very seriously. One of Professor Morris’ tasks will be to promote poetry around the island, and I look forward to his promoting it in our secondary schools and teacher’s colleges, as I have no doubt he will. There is so much for our adolescents to discover and enjoy  in this world of literature.

Martin Henry, a columnist whose work I enjoy,  had  an article, Arts, technics, education and society in the Sunday Gleaner of April 20, 2014, in which he talked  about Professor Mervyn Morris’ appointment and the significance of the arts to the society. Naturally, literacy and literature were mentioned, and I quote, “Literacy is then the gateway into the literature (broadly defined) of the children’s culture (broadly defined from world to community), a tool for producing their own creative content, and a navigational instrument for finding their way about the world.”   He concludes, “I am aware of one very prestigious business school which teaches critical thinking, problem solving and decision making through literature and drama. These are the very skills of mind which schoolchildren and university youth must be  helped to develop through balanced exposure to the arts and sciences, . . . Civilized citizens make better workers. But civilization is an end in itself – and a desirable one.”

I do hope that those who have the power to make decisions to support and sponsor the arts and literature will recognize the significance of  Martin Henry’s piece. I am hopeful,  I am encouraged that with the appointment of Professor Mervyn Morris and the Burt Award going to A-dZiko Simba Gegele,  and another Jamaican, Diana McCaulay, winning this major literary prize, we will know yet again, that we too can write in abundance. And great advances will be made in our island towards the recognition of the civilizing effect of literature, or at the very least, the joy it can add to our lives.

(photos taken from the Sunday Observer, April 27, 2014,  and the Sunday Gleaner, April 20, 2014) 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Children reading their own stories to basic school children


 Can you imagine children reading the stories they have written to little ones in a basic school? Magical! The Jamaica Cultural Development Commission invited  the Jamaican Observer Junior Writers’ Club to participate in World Storytelling Day ( March 20) by reading their stories to children at the Radio Jamaica Basic School . (Basic school is Early Childhood level) .

The ten-year-old club  members (one is 9)  were a bit nervous at the thought of it, but we assured them that the children were very little and it would be like reading to younger brothers and sisters. And so that all would go as well as possible, our club members came to the Observer one afternoon earlier in the week  to practise their reading, expression, projection, pausing and pace.

 And I must say that the parents and teachers of these children have been most supportive of the children, bringing them to workshops regularly, and for something which is not to pass an exam, as in extra lessons, but which they realize will enrich their children’s lives. All is not lost!  The children have been taught the basics of story writing by me, and the stories have been then edited by me, in consultation with them, and our editorial team of Debra Gail Williamson and Olivia Johnson Wilmot. And it is consultation, which is great; the children are very sure about what they want in their stories, and you have to explain why things have to be changed. Indeed, they are young writers!

At our practice session,  Olivia Johnson Wilmot gave them a fact sheet on how to introduce themselves and their story, how to ask an introductory question, and how to end their reading by saying ‘thank you’. She is actually a brilliant teacher.  She also got the assistance of her father in-law, Billy Wilmot of Royal Palm fame ( a local soap opera that has been running for years here), to assist the children. It was fascinating to watch him work with the children. I saw its effect first hand as he came to work with the little boy who was doing his practice run with me.  What I saw was not only the effect of his Mr. Wilmot’s stage craft, but also the effect of the older male on the young male. It was as if he breathed more confidence into 'my' little boy. This is why we need more male teachers. You’ve heard it said that our boys are surrounded by female authority figures, mothers, grandmothers, female teachers, and they are all wonderful, but none of them knows what it is to be male. I think it must be similar to the way we interact with other women. There is a femaleness which we can identify in each other. So too there must be this male identity. I know, "Hello!’' you’re saying! "Doesn’t everybody know this?” Yes, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it right in front of my eyes. I know Uncle Billy is quite impressive with his grey  locks neatly tide back, but it’s more than that. Watching this interaction, it was as if someone poured water on a wilting plant and the leaves just lifted their heads again.

This could be a secret success potion for our boys. I’ve seen male teachers manage classes of little children and it’s different from a female teacher; however, it’s equally caring and wonderful.

Back to our reading: At the basic school, each of our writers read to a class. Some read to more than one,  as there were more classes than children, and two  read to an older group which had been joined together for the reading in their assembly area. The little children were attentive. They asked questions; they even answered questions. Wow! Our ‘clubbites’ enjoyed the reading of their stores; they enjoyed the interaction with the little children. They came away confident that they had achieved something wonderful. And I saw two male teachers at the school. Again, wonderful!

The school welcomed us. The little children entertained us with choral speaking by way of saying thanks, and snacks were provided for all by our sponsor National Baking Company Ltd. For myself, I was impressed with our children, the basic school and its staff, and all the sponsors, of course. The photos taken (some of which are on this page) appeared in the Jamaica Observer, and there was one of each of the children reading. Noted as excellent organization.


But most of all, can you imagine what seemingly little seed was planted that day which may grow into a great tree with spreading branches? Ten-year-olds have been empowered by the realization that  their written word and their spoken word can bring joy to little children. The little children, no doubt to their astonishment, saw that children a little older than they are have this magnificent power of writing and reading and storytelling. Everybody has been enriched by this. How many writers will come out of these groups? We do not know, but we do know that on that day little lives have been changed by the knowledge that there is something that can be achieved, that there is a knowledge and skill and power to which one can aspire. We just don’t know where this will lead to, my friends, but it’s all good.
Remember, that these stories are printed in the Learning Corner of the Jamaica Observer.