Writing Seriously…

After the hectic and enjoyable month of February, these next two months will be a lot quieter.  I’d like to thank all of those who kept up, followed, shared, and commented, making Black History Month Reading a success.  Remember #ReadSoulLit has not seen its last days, its pressing on over on Twitter, Instagram, and on here.  Please continue to link the hashtag when you blog or link to social media about books by black IMG_1537writers.  This will help keep up the recognition that black writers so deserve.  So why is everything quieting down for the next two months? Well I’ve enrolled in an intensive online writing course with Faber Academy.  It’s called Getting Started: Writing Fiction (Intensive).

The course has about 15 participants mostly from England, an Australian, and me.  The course started and
we’ve been challenged with writing prompts, but we’ve also been encouraged with George Orwell’s short stories (pretty fantastic writing).  We’ve had to reflect on how much we read (I’ve got that covered), what we read, what to pay attention to, and we’ve discussed books we love and recommend and why.  It was suggested we take a look at Reading Like a Writer A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want To Write Them by Francine Prose.  It so happens I have that one on my shelf and have already started reading it.

So far I’ve found the writing very challenging.  I’ve done one round of writing prompts.  We are supposed to write for 10-15 minutes on the ones that interest us the most and I found this excruciating.  I could hear myself critiquing my writing as I linked one word after the next.  I have to stop doing this or I’m never going to get over the hump.  I must try to put myself in partial NaNoWriMo mode.  I say partial because I need to focus on how I write things too.  Tomorrow I’ll redo the prompts and maybe try the three that I haven’t done yet. I’m hoping that one of my attempts will jump out at me and that’s the one I’ll try to work on seriously.  Try to make it detailed, descriptive, and interesting.  This 500-word assignment is for Saturday.

I’ll also have the arduous task to critique two of my colleagues’ work.  This should be interesting.  This is what I usually do on this blog, with a twist of analysis and how I felt.  In the end, it’s not the same thing.  However, I’m glad that they gave us some specific guidelines to help us concentrate on the importance of writing.  Here are the areas we need to consider when critiquing and I believe they are useful for book bloggers too:  clarity – what kind of narrative is it?  Is it clear? Is it easy to follow what is happening?, point-of-view – Who is telling the story?  Do the view points change?, pace – Is the story lagging?  Try to identify why you feel less engaged., characters – Are the characters engaging?  Do we learn enough about the characters? Is there any information missing?, setting – Is there enough information about the place?  Is the location clearly explained?, over-writing – Are there more words than are necessary? Are we told things that we as the reader can already work out?, and spelling and punctuation – work should be presented in a clean and precise manner.  So poor grammar will be judged.  As they say, being a careful reader is crucial to developing skills and awareness to help with writing.  I’m pretty nervous about all of this but I’m throwing myself into it because I need the answer to the question that most of the other participants are asking as well and that’s, “Can I write?”  So I hope you’ll enjoy reading my updates on this course and maybe a book review or two for the next 8 weeks….

A Small Place

IMG_1516Caribbean literature is something that I haven’t read very much of, but the first two Jamaica Kincaid novels I read were Annie John and Lucy and that was a little over two years ago.  I thoroughly enjoyed them.  So to continue my discovery of Kincaid I picked up A Small Place and devoured it in a few hours.

The first few pages surprised me because Kincaid immediately implements the reader in the story.  She is speaking directly to us.  Many people will feel uncomfortable and resent her accusations, but deep down inside we all know they are true.  Within this tiny  81 page book, Kincaid explains the destruction and profiteering of her home, Antigua.

The story starts with the ugliness of tourism.  This is what will make the reader uncomfortable as we can see ourselves fit into the types of descriptions made about tourists.  The beauty of Antigua, its beaches that aren’t all free to its citizens, the beautiful landscapes, marred by imposing 5 star hotels, are almost stage sets made so that tourism can progress.  The exotic is what doesn’t allow tourists to see things as they are for Antiguans.

Kincaid laments on the lack of decent education in Antigua and the refusal of all past government officials to rebuild the island’s library, which has been virtually out of commission since colonial times.  There hangs on the building a sign which says, “THIS BUILDING WAS DAMAGED IN THE EARTHQUAKE OF 1974. REPAIRS ARE PENDING.” When this book was published in 1988, the renovation had been pending already for ten years.  That library is a definite symbol of the status of the Antiguans and the island as a whole.  They are nothing more than damaged remnants of colonial rule.

Kincaid doesn’t believe that young Antiguans are as well-educated as in her day.  She was educated under British rule with the classics (read Annie John for that understanding).  She realizes that the one thing the youth have in common with her generation is their capacity to admire the people who enslaved them. i.e. The British in her time and the Americans for the young Antiguans.

I could go on and explain to you the other very serious problems on the beautiful island of Antigua but I urge you to read it for yourself.  It is absolutely mind-blowing!  If and when you do, don’t judge the book on how you feel while reading it, but concentrate on all the grave issues facing these people.  I read many reviews on Goodreads saying that Kincaid was angry and why didn’t she do something to fix the library and she obviously doesn’t care because she lives in Vermont.  I felt like the person who wrote that didn’t understand the book.  Well if I were Kincaid I’d be angry too, not that I appreciate at all that angry black woman analogy.  All of the problems she details in this little book aren’t easy to come up against, since everybody is corrupt in one way or another and as for the locals they are just trying to survive.  Endemic corruption is almost impossible to fight against.  Here’s a quote from A Small Place that explains things very well, “In a small place, people cultivate small events.  The small event is isolated, blown up, turned over and over, and then absorbed into the everyday, so that at any moment it can and will roll off the inhabitants of the small place’s tongues.  For the people in a small place, every event is a domestic event; the people in a small place cannot see themselves in a larger picture, they cannot see that they might be part ofKENNETH NOLAND Jamaica Kincaid: unique literary journey. a chain of something, anything.” (A Small Place, p. 52)

Jamaica Kincaid was born in St. John’s, Antigua in 1949,  She now lives in Vermont and teaches at a university in California.  She is a writer, a gardener, and gardening writer.  Her work is qualified as autobiographical and is criticized as being angry.  Her books contain the following themes: post colonialism, neocolonialism, British/American imperialism, adolescence, mother-daughter relationships, racism, sexuality, class, and power.  She has received many literary awards including being shortlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for At the Bottom of the River in 1984 and The Autobiography of My Mother in 1997.  As for me I hope to pick up the controversial See Now Then at some point this year.  What do you think of Ms. Kincaid’s work?  Have you read any of Ms. Kincaid’s work?  If so what was your favorite?

#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge – Day 28

Day 28 – Favorite Author:

My favorite author is extremely difficult to pin down to one person.  So, I decided to site an author that I IMG_1486discovered last year that I’ve fallen head over heels in love with. J. California Cooper.  She was an incredible storyteller and sadly she died last year.  I’ve read two of the novels that are pictured here and absolutely loved them.  I don’t know how this author managed to fly completely under the radar and not get the acknowledgement she deserved.    If you haven’t picked up a book by Cooper I recommend checking out Family.  It’s short but poignant.  It will suck you in, break your heart, and leave you with lots to think about.  Here are a few other titles that you might want to have a look at too:  Homemade Love,  Life is Short But Wide, Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime , and  A Piece of Mine, among others.  Nobody knows what the J stands for in J. California Cooper.  She wanted it that way.  Could she have not gotten noticed because she was so discrete?

Who’s your favorite author?

#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge – Day 27

Day 27 – Favorite Line/Paragraph: 

As you know Another Country was one of my favorite books that I read last year.  It was such a revelation to me – from the writing style to the complex characters and to all the societal themes that are still relevant today.IMG_1479  There were so many great lines from this book I had difficulty choosing.  I went with the scene on page 279 where Ida is trying tell Cass how it really is for black people.  Of course Cass thinks things are always exaggerated.  “Kept you here, and stunted you and starved you, and made you watch your mother and father and sister and lover and brother  and son and daughter die or go mad or go under, before your very eyes?  And not in a hurry, like from one day to the next, but, every day, every day, for years, for generations?  Shit.  They keep you here because you’re black, while they go around jerking themselves off with all that jazz about  the land of the free and the home of the brave.  And they want you to jerk yourself off with that same music, too, only, keep your distance.  Some days, honey, I wish I could turn myself  into one big fist and grind this miserable country to powder.  Some days, I don’t believe it has a right to exist.  Now, you’ve never felt like that, and Vivaldo’s never felt like that…..if he hadn’t been born black.” (Another Country, p. 279 Penguin Modern Classics Edition)  If you want to know more about what I thought click here.

What’s your favorite line/paragraph?

#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge – Day 26

Day  26 – Funny Book:

I had to go with The Supreme’s at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat.  It really has been the funniest book I’ve read in a while.  I think I should search out funny books in the future.  It’s good to laugh between a few serious, IMG_0285_2heavy books.  The thing that is so brilliant with this book is the way Edward Kelsey more writes the three black female characters.  It’s so perfect.  He must have been a black woman in another life.  Brilliant lines!  Touching scenes.  He manages to put a bit of everything in it.

“Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat diner in Plainview, Indiana is home away from home for Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean. Dubbed “The Supremes” by high school pals in the tumultuous 1960s, they’ve weathered life’s storms for over four decades and counseled one another through marriage and children, happiness and the blues.

Now, however, they’re about to face their most challenging year yet. Proud, talented Clarice is struggling to keep up appearances as she deals with her husband’s humiliating infidelities; beautiful Barbara Jean is rocked by the tragic reverberations of a youthful love affair; and fearless Odette is about to embark on the most terrifying battle of her life. With wit, style and sublime talent, Edward Kelsey Moore brings together three devoted allies in a warmhearted novel that celebrates female friendship and second chances.”

What’s your funny read?

#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge – Day 25

Day 25 – Favorite Male Character:

It was difficult to choose my favorite male character because there are so many. I decided to choose one IMG_1477that I read not so long ago.  It’s Kai from The Memory of Love.  I absolutely loved this book but particularly loved Kai’s character.  He’s developed with a sort of mystery that keeps you hooked.  He’s never really described physically but from everything we learn about his personality, his mannerisms, and how he works it’s like I can see him perfectly.  That writing capacity has always impressed me.  Kai is a young brilliant surgeon that doesn’t like to show much emotion.  He’s complex on all levels and full of faults.  That’s what makes him so appealing.

In case you don’t know what The Memory of Love is about here’s a blurb from Amazon:  “Freetown, Sierra Leone, 1969. On a hot January evening that he will remember for decades, Elias Cole first catches sight of Saffia Kamara, the wife of a charismatic colleague. He is transfixed. Thirty years later, lying in the capital’s hospital, he recalls the desire that drove him to acts of betrayal he has tried to justify ever since.

Elsewhere in the hospital, Kai, a gifted young surgeon, is desperately trying to forget the pain of a lost love that torments him as much as the mental scars he still bears from the civil war that has left an entire people with terrible secrets to keep. It falls to a British psychologist, Adrian Lockheart, to help the two survivors, but when he too falls in love, past and present collide with devastating consequences. The Memory of Love is a heartbreaking story of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.”

Who’s your favorite male character?